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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Urgent review of Scots police calls

Lamara Bell and John Yuill
John Yuill and Lamara Bell were found in the car three days after the crash was first reported

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) is to undertake an urgent review of all police call handling in Scotland.

It follows the death of Lamara Bell, 25, who was discovered critically ill in a crashed car on the M9, next to her dead partner John Yuill, 28.

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Although they were not found until Wednesday, Police Scotland admitted the crash was reported to them on Sunday.

The review has been ordered by the Scottish government.

It will focus broadly on all call handling procedures and will be in addition to the ongoing independent inquiry specifically into the M9 incident by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

Police Scotland’s chief constable Sir Stephen House has admitted that the information received about the crash on Sunday had not been entered into police systems.

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‘Speedy review’

Ms Bell, who was a mother, had been in a medically-induced coma at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow having suffered kidney damage from dehydration from lying in the wreckage for so long. She died at about 06:50 on Sunday.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson expressed his condolences to the families on behalf of the Scottish government and said it was “essential” that answers were found quickly following an “extremely tragic case”.

The car went off the M9 near Stirling on Sunday
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He said: “It is on this basis that, following discussion with the first minister, I have today directed Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to undertake a formal investigation and review of call handling and process within Police Scotland’s contact command and control centres.”

He said this had the full support of Police Scotland.

He added that the independent review would provide “an accurate picture of capacity and capability at present”, and “clearly identify any issues so they can be promptly remedied”.

“This will assist in providing assurance around the operation of call handling within Police Scotland’s contact command and control centres,” he said.

The report will then be submitted to ministers to consider.

“This will be a thorough and speedy review that will help to ensure that the people of Scotland can have full confidence in this vital public service,” Mr Matheson added.

Missing person inquiry

Sir Stephen welcomed the review.

“In light of recent tragic events, Police Scotland need to be able to reassure the Scottish public that we have both the capacity and the capability to deal with their calls to us, both in an emergency on 999 and in our 101 service,” he said.

“It was with this intent I wrote to the cabinet secretary to ask that HMICS review our call handling procedures across the country, and offer recommendations if required.”

Earlier, he expressed the force’s “deepest sympathies” to Ms Bell’s family and friends, saying: “We are all deeply saddened”.

A spokesman for Pirc said: “The commissioner will rigorously pursue a full independent investigation to establish the circumstances of what happened and will focus on why a telephone call made to Police Scotland three days earlier, which reported their car was off the road, was not followed up.

“The commissioner will also examine the robustness of Police Scotland’s missing person inquiry and look at why that inquiry was not linked with the information received in the call, while examining the police procedures used to log this particular call made from a member of the public.”

Ms Bell’s brother Martin Bell confirmed her death on Facebook on Sunday morning.

“My sister just passed away,” he said.

‘Deeply saddened’

A statement on behalf of the Bell family said: “Sadly, our daughter has passed away. We now request that the media respect our privacy to grieve for Lamara at this very difficult time.”

A statement on behalf of the Yuill family said: “The family of John Yuill would like to say that their prayers and thoughts are with Lamara and her family. We are devastated by the sad news this morning.

“The families have messaged each other this morning and our thoughts are with John and Lamara’s children at this very sad time.”

The car had gone down an embankment off the M9

Last week Sir Stephen apologised to the couple’s families for the “individual failure in our service”.

On Saturday, Mr Bell put a post on Facebook which said: “I just want everyone to know Iv put my posts public .. I want the police to see this also ..I want them to see how a huge error by a senior officer has absolutely devastated us.”

He said the family felt like they had had their “hearts ripped out.”

The couple, believed to be from the Falkirk area, had been reported missing to police after last being seen in the company of friends in the Loch Earn area of Stirlingshire in a blue Clio in the early hours of Sunday.

Ms Bell’s family had said they were angry and disgusted by the way Police Scotland had handled the case.

The chief constable said a member of the public had called the 101 non-emergency number at about 11:30 on Sunday after seeing the car down the embankment near the Bannockburn slip road.

The call had been taken by an “experienced officer”, who has since remained on duty. However, “for reasons yet to be established” this was never entered into systems or sent out to operational teams in the area.

“That we failed both families involved is without doubt,” the chief constable said.

The HMICS review follows pressure from opposition politicians for a wider inquiry into the operation of Scotland’s single police force in light of the incident.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie welcomed the review but said it should go further.

“With reports of police officers backfilling civilian posts, huge workload pressures and morale at rock bottom there is a strong case for a wider independent review,” he said.

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