Community united in grief for victims

Photographer Ian Georgeson, 07921 567360
Jim Clark Rally, Crash, Little Swinton,

Photographer Ian Georgeson, 07921 567360 Jim Clark Rally, Crash, Little Swinton,

A few hours earlier, he had been behind the wheel of his own rally car. Later in the day, Duns driver Euan Thorburn was in the crowd watching the horror unfold before his eyes.

He describes the fatal accident during Saturday’s Jim Clark Rally as a “freak” and says marshals could not have done any more to prevent spectators from standing in dangerous positions.

His comments come as the community is united in grief following the tragic accident in which three people were killed. Euan Thorburn knew one of them personally.

On a black day for the sport and for the Borders, it was the second of two incidents at different locations in which vehicles collided with spectators.

Fans were injured in the first of them close to Crosshall Farm on the Eccles stage when another car left the road and hit five people – one woman and four men.

One of them, a man, was transferred to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and went into intensive care. The other four were treated for minor injuries at the scene. That was two hours before the fatal incident which prompted Police Scotland to abandoned the rally with immediate effect.

Mr Thorburn had been competing, but was forced to retire his Ford Focus on Saturday morning. Instead, he was spectating at the Swinton stage where the fatal accident took place.

It happened shortly after 4pm on the narrow B road, locally referred to as Swinton House Road, about half-a-mile west of Swinton village. Spectators are attracted to this section of the rally by the small humpback bridge on the road which causes competing cars to lift into the air as they speed past.

For rallying fans, it is a spectacular sight. But it can be dangerous too.

Mr Thorburn explained: “They were standing north of the bridge, maybe about 150 yards past where the bump was, but when the cars are travelling at such high speed it doesn’t take them much time to travel a fair distance.

“The marshals and organisers did all they could to warn everyone not to stand there, but they chose to stand there.

“They were experienced motorsport people, they knew the risks involved and it was just a freak accident. It’s so sad that they lost their lives because of it.It was just a terrible, terrible accident. It’s certainly not good for the rally, but it was a pure accident.”

When the emergency services arrived, three spectators – now identified as Iain Provan, 64, and Elizabeth Allan, 63, a couple from Barrhead, and Len Stern, 71, from Bearsden – were pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr Thorburn was interviewed last year by Mr Provan for a new motorsport website and said he was a “really nice man”.

Another spectator, a 61-year-old man, was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where he remains.

The car itself ended up in a field and the Irish driver and co-driver escaped from the crash uninjured.

Mr Thorburn added: “I feel for the driver and co-driver of the car involved. It wasn’t their fault and they must feel dreadful. At the end of the day, the people were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Colin Gracey, a Berwickshire High School teacher from Swinton, has watched the rally for 17 years and goes to the same place every year.

Another eye witness, he also said there were people standing in an area they should not have been in.

He recalled: “I think it was the seventh car and it veered very sharply after the bridge and went into the field, hitting the people who were stood there.

“It was shocking. I was there with my three children, and we go to the same place every year and always watch it from there. It was very traumatic. It was like a bowling ball hitting skittles.”

Mr Gracey said a safety car had passed through the area ahead of the rally to tell people to stand at a safe distance. “A marshal car came through before the stage started and told people to move away from the area,” he said. “I think people moved, but came back.”

Another Duns rally driver, Dale Robertson, described it as “a sad day for motorsport”.

He added: “It’s very, very sad. As many of the witnesses have said, the marshals on the stage did everything they possibly could. We were busy getting a gearbox into our car ready for the Reivers Rally on Sunday, but once we heard the news we decided that we would not compete – even if the rally had gone ahead.

“Something like this gives you a bit of a shock, especially when it’s on your doorstep.”

Fellow competitor Dom Buckley tweeted: “Sad day! Thoughts with families of those concerned. The organisers cannot be made to be the blame. Our sport IS dangerous and accidents DO happen.

“Don’t know the circumstances, but know the road and common sense must be used and marshals shown more respect by spectators.”

Duns driver Garry Pearson added his condolences. He said: “Our thoughts and heartfelt sympathy go out to all those who have been affected by Saturday afternoon’s tragic events, especially those who have lost family members, relatives and friends.

“Our thoughts are also with the driver, co-driver, organisers, marshals, witnesses, etc. A very rare and tragic occurrence which stage rallying is not accustomed to.”




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