Blackouts revelation would’ve saved lives
Families weep after being told deaths were avoidable if driver disclosed health past
The families of those who died in the bin lorry tragedy wept in court last week as they heard the victims would still be alive if Glasgow City Council had never employed driver Harry Clarke.
Mr Clarke’s boss said he wouldn’t have been allowed behind the wheel if he had revealed his history of blackouts.
Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton, were killed on December 22 last year after the truck Mr Clarke was driving swerved onto a crowded pavement on the city’s Queen Street. Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, also died.
Witnesses reported that Mr Clarke had appeared to lose consciousness at the wheel before the bin lorry went out of control. Mr Clarke had a history of health issues dating back 40 years, it was revealed last week.
But Mr Clarke, 58, failed to tell council bosses about his record of problems — including fainting and dizziness — when he was taken on.
On Monday, the fatal accident inquiry into the tragedy heard that Mr Clarke broke a “bond of trust” with his bosses by deliberately not revealing his history of blackouts.
A witness agreed with the suggestion from Peter Gray QC as the inquiry into the deaths of six shoppers in Glasgow last December entered its third week.
Mr Gray, representing Glasgow City Council, cross-questioned council HR manager Geraldine Ham.
Referring to Mr Clarke, the QC asked: “In a number of occasions and a number of material respects, he was not truthful about his medical history, is that correct?” Ms Ham agreed.
Mr Gray asked. “On one view, would you agree that it would appear that the lack of candour appeared deliberate?” Ms Ham replied: “Yes.” Mr Gray continued: “The bond of trust so important between employer and employee — if it’s accepted, what is contained in the medical records — has been fundamentally broken between the council and Mr Clarke. That must be a possibility, isn’t it?” Ms Ham replied: “Yes.” Earlier, Ronald Conway, representing the family of victim Stephenie Tait, said the inquiry would hear that Mr Clarke is not a “criminal mastermind” but someone who “lied repeatedly to get a job and keep a job”.
The inquiry heard Mr Clarke was initially employed as a school bus driver before applying to work in the road gritting department and then cleansing.
He had to fill in a medical questionnaire as part of his application due to the type of vehicles he’d be driving.
Douglas Gellan, 48, cleaning services waste manager at the council, said Mr Clarke would not have been employed if he didn’t have an LGV licence.
Relatives of the families cried as Dorothy Bain QC put it to him: “If he had never been employed, the six people who lost their lives would still be here today?” Mr Gellan said: “Yes.”
Ms Bain asked if he knew Mr Clarke had reported having a vasovagal at work in 1989, and Mr Gellan said no. The lawyer asked if he knew Mr Clarke was investigated by his GP and the hospital in 1994 after feeling dizzy behind the wheel. Mr Gellan said he did not. He also denied knowing about a similar situation in 2003.
The inquiry heard that, in December 2011, Mr Clarke had a medical examination with a doctor to fill in a D4 form to renew his HGV licence. The form said: “Is there a history of blackout or loss of consciousness within the last five years?” The box for “no” was ticked.
Mr Gellan was shown a daily log from April 7, 2010, made by an inspector of First Bus. It noted that when Mr Clarke was a bus driver, he reported to t he inspector that he had blacked out.
Ms Bain said: “If it’s accepted Mr Clarke did indeed report a blackout in April 2010 to an inspector of First Bus, the answer he has given in the D4 form is wrong?” Mr Gellan said it would seem so. Ms Bain asked: “You cannot have somebody behind the wheel of an LGV who is prone to passing out, can you?”
Mr Gellan said: “No,” and admitted it was a danger to the public of extraordinary proportions.
The inquiry, before Sheriff John Beckett QC, continues.