Fatal accident inquiry into Scots rally deaths announced

Three spectators were killed near Coldstream during the Jim Clark Rally in 2014. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Three spectators were killed near Coldstream during the Jim Clark Rally in 2014. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A joint fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of four spectators at two Scottish motor rallies will be held, the Crown Office said today.

It follows investigations into the deaths of Joy Robson at the Snowman Rally near Inverness in February 2013 and of John Leonard (Len) Stern, Elizabeth Allan and Iain John Provan at the Jim Clark Rally in the Borders in May 2014.

The Borders deaths, near Swinton, are believed to have been the worst incident in Scottish rallying history.

The FAI will be the first into deaths in different parts of Scotland and is aimed at helping to avoid a repeat of such incidents.

The decision follows a change in the law which came into effect today which allows a single FAI to be held into deaths in separate areas of Scotland.

A Crown Office spokeswoman said: "The two events hold similar questions in relation to spectator safety at rallies.

"The Lord Advocate considers it is in the public interest that these issues be explored together."

The date and location of the FAI are still being arranged.

The Crown Office said there would be no criminal proceedings in relation to either event, although that may be reconsidered "should additional evidence come to light".

It is understood that rally drivers are unlikely to face prosecution because road traffic laws are suspended during such events so they can ignore speed limits.

It also believed rally marshals do not have the power to force spectators to move back from the edge of roads, and their only option, if they fear for safety, is to call off the event.

A Scottish Government review of motor sport safety following the deaths recommended last year tighter control of volunteer marshals, more police involvement in safety planning and better communication with spectators.

At the Jim Clark incident, another spectator said a rally car had ploughed into onlookers after crossing a humpback bridge like a “bowling ball hitting skittles”.

Teacher Colin Gracey, from Swinton, who has watched the rally for 17 years, said: “It veered very sharply after the bridge and went into the field, hitting the people who were stood there.

“A marshal car came through before the stage started and told people to move away from the area. I think people moved but came back.”

Mr Provan, 64, and Ms Allan, 63, were a couple from Barrhead in East Renfrewshire, while Mr Stern, 71, was from Bearsden in East Dunbartonshire.

At the Snowman Rally the previous year, Mrs Robson, 50, from Portree in Skye, was killed when a race car careered off a track and crashed into crowds.

It happened in Glenurquhart Forest, west of Loch Ness.

The Crown Office said FAIs were held into cases "where a death or deaths were sudden, suspicious, or unexplained or occurred in circumstances such as to give rise to serious public concern and where it appears to the Lord Advocate to be appropriate that an inquiry should be held into the circumstances".

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire Conservative MSP John Lamont said the FAI announcement was a setback for the future of the Borders rally.

He said: “While it is important that the legal process is followed, this is disappointing news for the Jim Clark Rally.

“It’s a brilliant event that contributes greatly to the Borders economy, and its loss has impacted local businesses over the last few years.

“I hope the FAI can be carried out swiftly, and that Scottish Borders Council, the police and the Crown Office will do all they can to facilitate the holding of the Rally as soon as possible.

“With the Snowman Rally having taken place in the intervening period, I can see no reason why the same flexibility cannot be applied to this great sporting event.”