UK

Woman who laid undiscovered with partner in crashed car for three days ‘probably would have survived if found earlier’

A woman who, along with her partner, lay undiscovered in a crashed car for days probably would have survived, but for “organisational failure” in police call handling procedures, an inquiry has found.

Lamara Bell, 25, and John Yuill, 28, died after their car careered off the M9 near Stirling on 5 July 2015 as they drove back from a camping trip.

They lay in their Renault Clio for three days before being discovered on 8 July, despite police being alerted to the incident.

Mr Yuill, a father-of-five, was pronounced dead at the scene, while Ms Bell, a mother-of-two, died four days later in hospital.

Sheriff James Williamson found in his determination, published following a fatal accident inquiry (FAI), that there was no system of reconciling information recorded by officers in notebooks with action taken.

He said: “The failure of Police Scotland to properly risk assess the call handling procedures and have a system of reconciliation was an organisational failure.”

Police Scotland repeated their apology to the families of the deceased, adding that “significant improvements” have been made to call handling systems since 2015, which are now “incomparable” to the systems in place at that time.

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Mr Yuill suffered unsurvivable injuries in the crash, however Ms Bell would probably have lived had she received medical attention on the day of the incident, albeit with long-term neurological problems.

Sheriff Williamson noted the Bilston Glen police call handling centre was under pressure that summer due to staffing shortages, and there was confusion among officers about the tripartite call handling system comprising the Aspire, Avaya and Storm systems.

Police sergeant Brian Henry, now retired, volunteered to do overtime at Bilston Glen, arriving into what the sheriff described as a “confused, fractious working environment”.

File photo dated 9/7/2015 of police officers search the scene at Junction 9 of the M9 after a car was discovered. A crashed car lay undiscovered for days with two people inside after an "organisational failure" in police call handling procedures, a fatal accident inquiry has found. The inquiry also found a police officer who failed to log a call reporting the incident was inadequately trained. Lamara Bell, 25, and John Yuill, 28, died after the car they were in left the M9 near Stirling on July
Image:
Pic: PA

The inquiry heard that on 5 July he took a call from a farmer named John Wilson reporting a car off the road and recorded it in his police notebook, but he failed to log it into the Storm case management system and no action was taken.

Sheriff Williamson found police had not identified the risk that calls may be missed.

He said: “Brian Henry was inadequately trained and left largely unsupervised to operate a system that allowed for human error to go undetected.

“His human error going undetected meant that Lamara Bell was left in a vehicle by the side of a major motorway in Scotland suffering devastating injures.

“These injuries, together with the delay in rescuing and treating her, led to her death.”

The car was discovered on 8 July 2015 after another member of the public rang the police.

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Sheriff Williamson found the incident was not the result of one individual failure by Police Scotland but “more than one and these failures took place over a lengthy period of time, during which the opportunity to resolve them was lost”.

The FAI came after the family of Ms Bell was awarded more than £1 million in damages from Police Scotland in a civil settlement in December 2021.

In September 2021, the force was fined £100,000 at the High Court in Edinburgh after it pleaded guilty to health and safety failings which “materially contributed” to Ms Bell’s death.

Sheriff Williamson said Ms Bell’s suffering over a period of three days, when she was severely injured but conscious, is “almost incomprehensible”.

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