Victims seek charges over Legionnaires’ outbreak

A petrie dish containing the Legionnaire bacteria. Pic: file
A petrie dish containing the Legionnaire bacteria. Pic: file
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VICTIMS of the legionnaires’ disease outbreak which claimed four lives hope criminal charges will be brought following a key development in the long-running investigation.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed it is in the process of sending files to the Procurator Fiscal Service, which will now decide whether there is enough evidence to prosecute.

The significant step follows a near two-year probe into the deaths of three men and one woman, aged between 47 and 65. The investigation, which remains ongoing, has also involved the police and NHS Lothian.

Gordon Erasmuson, who was hospitalised after contracting legionnaires’ disease during the outbreak, which occurred between May and July 2012, believes he is yet to fully recover.

While he branded the amount of time the probe had taken as “ridiculous”, Mr Erasmuson, 61, said he hoped the submission of the files would prove to be a breakthrough in victims’ fight for justice.

He added: “I hope this is a significant step on the way to bringing charges.

“That would be the best outcome for the victims – especially those who lost someone because of this. This outbreak was not an act of God.

“I hope some person or entity will be brought to account, although I’m not convinced they want to charge anyone.

“There’s been a wall of silence since day one – you’d get more information out of Moscow than this crowd.”

During the outbreak, which centred on the Gorgie area, two firms – the North British Distillery and pharmaceutical company Macfarlan Smith – were served with improvement notices in relation to cooling towers which can be a source of legionella bacteria.

Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi, whose constituency includes the epicentre of the outbreak, said a prosecution would be the best result for those affected by the legionella crisis.

“I know a lot of legionnaires’ outbreaks go without anyone being prosecuted because the standard of proof is so high. But the best situation is to have the culprits identified and end up in court.

“Testing takes a long time, but it was done a very long time ago and the investigation seems to have dragged on, and I have had difficulty getting any kind of update out of the HSE.

“I certainly hope there is a prosecution because everybody in Gorgie and across Edinburgh really wants answers and they have been waiting a very long time.”

Sources described the case as “inherently technical and complex”. Those examining the files have not put a timeframe on when a decision over whether to pursue charges will be made.

A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: “The investigation is still ongoing and we can confirm that the Health and Safety Executive are in the process of submitting a number of reports on the circumstances to the Health and Safety Division of COPFS.”

A spokeswoman for the HSE said that some reports had already been given to the Crown Office and that others were in the process of being sent.

Hundreds ill

THE legionnaires’ disease outbreak gripped Edinburgh in the spring of 2012.

An NHS Lothian report revealed 92 suspected or confirmed cases. Hundreds more became ill after breathing in the bacteria, developing conditions like Pontiac fever.

Last summer, four Lothian gardeners became ill after coming into contact with a form of the bug linked to compost.