Silence for Ewan Williamson five years after death

Landlady Cath Karkri lays flowers by a plaque dedicated to Ewan Williamson. Picture: Greg Macvean
Landlady Cath Karkri lays flowers by a plaque dedicated to Ewan Williamson. Picture: Greg Macvean
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COLLEAGUES of a late firefighter who died in a blaze in 2009 will observe a moment’s silence today during a wreath-laying ceremony on the fifth anniversary of his death.

Ewan Williamson, 35, lost his life tackling a basement blaze at the former Balmoral Bar in Dalry Road in which 20 residents, including a baby, were rescued from the flats above.

Mr Williamson – the only firefighter to be killed in the history of Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service – died after becoming trapped in a toilet on the ground floor of the pub in July 2009.

Prosecutors brought charges against the service for alleged health and safety breaches including inadequate training of firefighters to tackle basement fires and a failure to “prioritise his rescue”.

Five years on, Mr Williamson’s family is still waiting for answers on the exact circumstances of his death.

Today, Mr Williamson’s colleagues from Tollcross Green Watch will gather at the fire service’s City of Edinburgh headquarters at Lauriston to lay a wreath in his memory.

The wreath will be placed at the memorial plaque dedicated to the firefighter at 11am followed by a short remembrance service.

In a statement, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) East Scotland said: “Everyone is welcome to attend the remembrance and for those who are on duty or are unable to attend, we are sure that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters in passing on our thoughts and best wishes to Ewan’s family and friends.”

Roddy Robertson, executive council member for the FBU, said today’s anniversary would be particularly poignant not least because it is still unclear whether a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) will be held into the firefighter’s death.

Mr Robertson said: “It’s an extraordinary amount of time for families to wait for the true story of what happened to their loved one, just to understand the last moments of somebody’s life.

“It would help them move on from things.”

The tragedy has prompted calls for reform of the FAI system.

Lothians Labour MSP Sarah Boyack is campaigning for a faster process with an emphasis on ensuring key lessons are learned.

Criminal charges under the Health and Safety Act have been brought against the new Scottish Fire Service, where fire chiefs are accused of failing to prioritise Ewan’s rescue.

Peter Gray QC, representing the fire service, has said he would challenge the “competency and relevancy” of the charges.

Preliminary debates have been held at Glasgow High Court where the case is expected to be re-called later this year.

A decision on whether a fatal accident inquiry should be held will only be made after the resolution of the court case.

The firefighter’s mother, Linda, 69, and his sisters Rachel and Rebecca, lodged a £700,000 compensation claim at the Court of Session in Edinburgh in September 2012.

They have alleged watch commander Tim Foley failed to recognise warnings signalling a potentially dangerous “backdraught” fire.

A spokesman for Thompson’s solicitors, acting for the Williamson family, said they were unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.