Comment: Wheels of justice move too slowly

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The families of the victims of Edinburgh’s legionnaire’s disease outbreak are not alone in their frustration at the slow moving of Scotland’s wheels of justice.

Two-and-a-half years after four people were killed in the Gorgie area a “wall of silence” surrounds the official investigation into what went wrong. No one expected quick answers in what was always going to be a long and complex inquiry, but there are worrying echoes of the case of firefighter Ewan Williamson in the way this is developing. As the sixth anniversary of his death approaches, his family are still no nearer to knowing exactly how their much-loved son and brother came to die. In their case, it is hoped that a trial will soon provide the answers that years of patient waiting by his family did not.

Cases such as these are inevitably difficult for prosecutors, often involving time-consuming scientific testing and the painstaking building up of sufficient evidence to take to court. The high evidence threshold means prosecutions are difficult but not rare. Several cases are brought each year in the UK against individuals and organisations who have not sufficient steps to control the risk of legionella.

We do not yet know whether there is any realistic prospect of this happening in the Gorgie case. Next to no information has been forthcoming since 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 in the wake of the outbreak in 2012.

This is simply unacceptable. The wheels of justice often move too slowly in Scotland and their workings are too opaque. Marco Biagi is quite right that the least the families of the victims deserve is to be better informed. This must not turn into another desperate six-year wait for answers.