Ewan Williamson death may spark inquiries overhaul

Ewan Williamson died in 2009 at the Balmoral Bar
Ewan Williamson died in 2009 at the Balmoral Bar
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A RADICAL law-change partially inspired by the tragic death of a city firefighter is a step closer today.

A public consultation over a Holyrood members’ bill that would see Scotland’s Fatal Accident Inquiries system overhauled is to be launched.

The proposals have been in part inspired by the case of Ewan Williamson, who died in July 2009 while battling a blaze in the Balmoral Bar in Dalry Road.

Four years on, a Fatal Accident Inquiry has still not been held meaning his family is still waiting for answers about what happened on the night Mr 
Williamson died, aged 35.

Supporters of a change in the law believe the situation illustrates why current laws are not fit for purpose and can cause the bereaved further agony and grief.

The consultation document over the draft bill states that those closest to the firefighter have been met with a “wall of silence while trying to ascertain basic information about the death” and “have had to fight a system which has denied them the truth”.

The Inquiries into Deaths (Scotland) Bill, launched by Glasgow Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson, is being backed by her Lothians colleague Sarah Boyack.

Ms Boyack said: “It’s 
unacceptable that families are forced to wait for years without justice and without closure. In Edinburgh firefighters and their families know this first hand due to the tragic loss of firefighter Ewan Williamson over four years ago.

“I support the proposals to simplify the process of Fatal Accident Inquiries and to put families who’ve lost a loved one at the heart of that process. I hope this will gain cross party support to enable the Scottish Parliament to act this session.”

Under the proposed new law, there would be more emphasis on lessons learned from deaths, families would be given greater prominence in the process and deaths caused by industrial diseases or workplace exposure to dangerous materials would be treated the same as deaths which occur at work. The process would also be speeded up.

It was announced in April that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is facing two criminal charges in relation to the death of Mr Williamson. One relates to an alleged breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the other centres around regulations about risk assessments at work.

Mr Williamson’s family had offered to “freeze” a £700,000 damages claim it had made against the fire service if the Crown Office decided to prosecute anyone over the death.

John Duffy, Scottish Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said he backed reform.

“There may be lessons that could be learned from an incident very quickly to prevent it happening again,” he said. “But because of how long it takes to get a Fatal Accident Inquiry, it can be years before changes are made.

“Because the system is seen as adversarial, not all of the facts always come out. How do you get to the facts of the matter when on one side it’s in their interests to be defensive?”