Uist campaign blasts delay over storm deaths inquiry
THE Crown Office has apologised for taking more than 10 years to decide whether to hold a fatal accident inquiry into a fatal storm.
Archie and Murdina MacPherson, their children Andrew and Hannah and grandfather Calum Campbell died during the storm of January 2005 when their vehicles were swept off a coastal road in Iochdar, South Uist.
The South Ford Hydrodynamic Study, published in 2012, suggested opening up the South Ford causeway between South Uist and Benbecula and building a bridge across the gap would have eased flooding during the storm.
Coinciding with the tragedy’s 12th anniversary, Iochdar Community Council, Storas Uibhist and South Uist councillor Donnie Steele stated: ‘Prior to [the causeway’s] construction, local people consistently warned blocking the South Ford channel would be a dangerous and reckless act. Regrettably, this warning proved to be correct.
‘The original causeway plans incorporated two 15m openings, but this was reduced to only one 15m opening on the Benbecula side in order to save costs.
‘In October 2016, the decision not to have a fatal accident inquiry into the five tragic deaths was finally taken, more than 11 years since the loss of lives. This is a scandalous length of time to leave the community in limbo, especially those who had lost members of their families.’
A Crown Office spokesman said: ‘We have offered our sincerest apologies to the Campbell and MacPherson families for the length of time it has taken to deal with this case.
‘Crown counsel decided there is no requirement to hold a fatal accident inquiry (FAI). Crown counsel are satisfied the study has put all the available information in the public domain, including identifying factors for the flooding and recommendations to reduce the risk in the future, and on that basis there is no requirement to hold a FAI.’
The campaigners’ said Comhairle nan Eilean Siar now has ‘better warning systems, emergency planning meetings’, and ‘shift[ed] sand and shingle all over the South Ford’, but is ‘practically ignoring the one recommendation which puts the blame for the build-up of flooding squarely on the South Ford causeway.
‘A larger gap in the causeway leads to less inundation around Iochdar and the south shore of Benbecula. The scientific community have come to the same conclusions as the local community,’ it said, in favour of a ‘high cost/ high impact’ opening 250m-long bridged sections of the causeway. Why therefore do the comhairle continue to push other options within the study that are temporary fix at best and at worst a waste of funding? They should instead help the community by gaining the funding for the essential option 10 works.’
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said since 2005 it and the Scottish Government had spent £16.6 million on ‘repairs and betterment works’. It added: ‘Work has been carried out on escape routes and township road improvements, coastal protection schemes and assorted roadworks.
‘Consistent with one of the key recommendations, we are proceeding with work on the three main elements of the South Ford Flood Risk Management Scheme, which includes the reinstatement and strengthening of Gualan Island and the dune management and flood embankment schemes to the areas of coastline adjacent to Sgoil Lionacleit.
‘This week the comhairle is going out to tender for survey work to be carried out at the South Ford causeway as part of a feasibility study looking at the possibility of creating an additional larger opening in the causeway. The detailed cost of creating the larger opening in the causeway is unknown but estimates range from £10 million to £20 million.
‘The comhairle has lobbied the Scottish Government for additional funding for this project.’