Saturday, 31 October 2015

Dizzy for Decades (02/08/15)

The BBC reports that the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry which killed six people had been suffering from spells of dizziness and fainting for decades before being behind the wheel on the day of this fatal accident.

Now it's impossible not to feel a degree of sympathy for Harry Clarke because he will have to live with the consequences of what happened for the rest of his life, but nonetheless the fact remains that he lied to his new employer, Glasgow City Council, when applying for the job as a driver.

Not only that Glasgow City Council then failed to check his employment and medical history properly and, arguably, Scotland's largest council failed in its duty of care towards the public.

Yet another Scottish council fails to produce crucial documents which clearly should have been kept on a secure database - a scenario that people fighting for equal pay will be all too familiar with, sadly.

To make matters worse the Crown Prosecution Service (a useless organisation in my view - based on my personal experience) announces that the CPS has already decided that there will be no criminal prosecutions because senior lawyers deem the incident to be a 'tragic accident'. 

Which is true, of course,but only in the sense that Harry Clarke did not deliberately drive his huge bin lorry into the people who lost their lives; in legal parlance he lacked the 'mens rea' or intent necessary to be charged with a crime.

Yet the truth is that he was behind the wheel of a potentially deadly vehicle only by misrepresenting his medical history which means, sadly, that Harry has to be culpable if you ask me. 

Because people who drive while completely drunk, for example, do not set out to cause fatal accidents intentionally although that does not excuse such behaviour under the criminal law in Scotland, or elsewhere.

So as much as it pains me to say so, Glasgow does not come out of the whole sorry business terribly well.

Glasgow bin lorry crash driver had 'dizziness for decades'

BBC - Glasgow & West Scotland

Harry Clarke blacked out at the wheel of the bin lorry which crashed in Glasgow killing six people

The Glasgow bin lorry inquiry into the deaths of six people has heard the driver Harry Clarke suffered episodes of dizziness and fainting for decades.

Mr Clarke, 58, was unconscious when the bin lorry veered out of control and hit pedestrians on 22 December 2014.

The inquiry has now heard he reported bouts of dizziness in 1976, fainted at work while a lorry driver in 1989 and suffered dizziness for months in 1994.

His own GP was unaware he allegedly fainted at the wheel of a bus in 2010.

The Crown Office has already concluded that there will be no criminal prosecution over the crash, with senior lawyers deeming it a "tragic accident".

In a statement on Friday, the prosecution service said Mr Clarke was unconscious when the bin lorry veered out of control in Glasgow city centre "and therefore not in control of his actions".

The Crown Office statement said Mr Clarke did not "have the necessary criminal state of mind required for a criminal prosecution".

It also said that all the relevant evidence was known to the Crown counsel at the time the decision to take no proceedings was made.

The eighth day of the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), which is being overseen by Sheriff John Beckett QC at Glasgow Sheriff Court, has been hearing more details of Mr Clarke's medical history.

Not disclosed

The inquiry has previously heard that he allegedly suffered a blackout at the wheel of a First Bus vehicle on 7 April 2010 and that this information was not disclosed by Mr Clarke when he joined Glasgow City Council in 2011.

During cross-examination of Glasgow City Council human resources manager Geraldine Ham, it emerged that Mr Clarke's own GP was unaware that he allegedly passed out at the wheel of a bus.

Dorothy Bain QC, who is representing the bereaved Morton family, produced records of Mr Clarke's appointment with Dr Gerard McKaig at Baillieston Health Centre.

These stated that Mr Clarke told his GP he had lost consciousness at the First Bus depot canteen. They make no mention of fainting at the wheel of a bus.

Six people were killed and 15 others injured when the council bin lorry crashed in the centre of Glasgow

Mr Clarke is reported as saying that he was in a hot environment in the canteen and that he felt slightly disorientated for a short period and was then fine. There were no warning signs.

The medical notes said that paramedics attended and Mr Clarke was advised the incident was "vasovagal" - a heart-related condition that can cause fainting.

Ms Bain also brought forward medical information which stated that Mr Clarke reported episodes of dizziness in 1976.

His records show a vasovagal (fainting) attack in 1989 at work, when he was employed by Tennent Caledonian Breweries as a lorry driver.

Recurring dizziness

In 1987, when he was working as a bus driver, he sought a medical note because of a nervous condition.

In 1994 he reported recurring dizziness over an 18-month period to his GP.

The FAI heard that he was told not to drive in 2003 as he was complaining of dizziness. It is understood that he was working as an oil tanker driver at this time.

The medical notes also show that he was off work with stress in November 2009. 

(Clockwise from top left) Jack Sweeney, Lorraine Sweeney, Erin McQuade, Jacqueline Morton, Stephenie Tait and Gillian Ewing were killed in the crash

Ms Ham told the inquiry that the council was unaware of any of this medical history.

Ms Bain put it to Ms Ham: "On analysis, the bond of trust between the council and Mr Clarke is non-existent. He should never have been employed by council."

Ms Ham agrees that Mr Clarke would never have been employed by the council if he had told the truth about his medical history on his application form and medical declarations.

The witness also agreed with Ms Bain's assertion that six people would not have died and no-one would be at the inquiry if Mr Clarke had told the truth. 

References 'satisfactory'

Earlier, the FAI heard that Mr Clarke was suspended from his previous employer, First Bus, in December 2010 and started work with Glasgow City Council on 5 January 2011.

Mr Clarke's First Bus employee exit form stated that there were no issues with his attendance, performance or conduct and he was suitable for re-engagement with the company.

The inquiry was also told that the council could not locate any references from Mr Clarke's previous employers on his personnel file but an email was located stating that the authority was "satisfied" with the references given.

The FAI heard that Mr Clarke had filled out a medical questionnaire as part of his application to the council, but this could not be found either.

In a health assessment for the council in 2010 he declared one period of sickness, totalling seven days, in the previous two years.

The court heard that his First Bus employment record showed a total of 33 days absence in the previous two years.

Ms Ham told the inquiry that withholding relevant information could have led to a job offer being withdrawn.