Police Scotland ‘tried to protect reputation’ hours after M9 crash, inquiry told

Police Scotland tried to “protect its reputation” hours after the discovery of a car crashed off the M9, a fatal accident inquiry has heard.

John Yuill, 28, and Lamara Bell, 25, were reported missing on July 5, 2015 – the day their Renault Clio crashed down an embankment.

The crash was reported to police by passers-by at the time, but the couple were not found until three days later. Mr Yuill was found dead and Ms Bell later died in hospital.

Sergeant Brian Henry, who failed to log the initial report about the crash, described later learning of the discovery of the car and the couple as “the worst call you can imagine”, the inquiry was told.

The inquiry at Falkirk Sheriff Court heard a training sergeant raised concerns about police call centre working practices and branded them “a risk to the organisation”, weeks before the crash.

Training was reduced to three hours at Bilston Glen call centre, Midlothian, despite concerns being raised as it had previously taken a day-and-a-half, the inquiry was told.

A recruitment email said it was “irrelevant” how long it was since officers were trained, and made no mention of IT system Aspire, which became mandatory immediately after the crash.

John Yuill and Lamara Bell
The inquiry is examining the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell (Police Scotland/PA)

The paperwork was intended “to minimise the risk and protect the reputation of the Police Service of Scotland”, the inquiry heard.

The inquiry was told there were concerns senior managers had “miscalculated” how many staff were needed in Bilston Glen, after the closure of call centres in Stirling and Glenrothes, Fife.

Call centre manager Laura Henderson, 47, said there was an “uncomfortable conversation” about inconsistent training in June 2015, during a meeting with training sergeant Lindsey Hammond.

In a statement, Ms Hammond said: “I didn’t think three to four hours was long enough. Usually it would take around a day-and-a-half and also to shadow a fully trained call handler for a number of days.

“I told her I thought this was a risk to the organisation, which she agreed with. She seemed content that they were going to accept the risk and attempt to train the officers in the way explained.”

She added that she felt senior managers “miscalculated how many call handlers and control room staff that would be required to deal with the increased number of calls”, and was concerned about “being blamed”.

Mrs Henderson said: “The feedback from my staff was the training being delivered was not consistent. We had a discussion about that and she agreed with me. It was quite uncomfortable.

“I didn’t see a risk with the training being provided to the officers. I was comfortable it was our staff giving that training, and not the trainers.”

Scene of crash
Police officers search the scene at junction nine of the M9 after the couple’s car was found (PA)

In a recruitment email, Ms Kerr said: “It is irrelevant when you undertook the training provided you are competent in creating/transferring incidents on Scope. Officers will be required to attend Bilston Glen to be trained on the Avaya phone system prior to working overtime, but that can be the same day.”

Mrs Henderson said: “I would be surprised if they removed a time period because skills would reduce as time lapsed. That’s why there was a time period set initially I believe.”

Scope, a system referred to in the email, was not relevant, the hearing was told.

Mrs Henderson added: “Whilst I wasn’t copied into these emails I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t have picked on the fact Michaela Kerr was talking about Avaya training and not Aspire.

“I was still thinking these non-core personnel were getting appropriate training in CRM/Aspire before going live.

“I do not know why the non-core staff were not getting trained in CRM/Aspire and indeed were not operating on Aspire.”

Mr Henry was told the couple had been found in the car during his shift in Dalkeith, Midlothian, on July 8, when Mrs Henderson phoned him.

He had not made any notes in the margins stating what action he had taken regarding the initial call regarding the crash.

In a statement, he said: “It was the worst call you can imagine as a police officer.

“I explained I remember taking the call because it was a farmer and it was something to do with a car.

“I think Laura Henderson said ‘there were people in the car’. I replied ‘tell me nobody’s dead, are they okay?’. I was told that ‘someone’s still alive’.”

IT systems now issue a pop-up window if a report is not submitted properly.

The inquiry continues.

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