Inquiry into rally tragedies a must

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland at Kelso today ahead of a news briefing about the events at The Jim Clark Rally.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland at Kelso today ahead of a news briefing about the events at The Jim Clark Rally.

This week the Borders has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. What should have been three days of fast and furious sporting fun for those who enjoy rallying turned instead into death, injury, grief and untold misery.

Three people dead and two more seriously injured in accidents during the Jim Clark Rally – ironically, perhaps – run in memory of a man, a Borders farmer, who lost his life competing in the sport he loved.

Foremost, of course, the tragedy has brought tears and mourning to the families and friends of those who died, and ongoing anguish to the loved ones of those who are fighting, perhaps for their lives.

The tragedy of Saturday will also have affected many others – those who witnessed it; the shocked and stunned who somehow managed to muster enough true grit to offer what assistance they could; the professionals from the emergency services; the volunteer stewards who give of their time in order that others can enjoy; and the organisers, again volunteers, who donate so much of their time and expertise to stage this major event.

And, of course, it will have affected the participants – the crews, and in particular the two in the car involved in the fatal incident. It will be a long time – if ever – before some of those directly involved can erode their memories of what happened last weekend.

It is only right and legally binding that proper enquiries into what happened are under way.

That two accidents of this nature should happen within a couple of hours of each other must be worrying. There are questions which must, and I’m sure, will be asked.

The Scottish Government has shown it is taking the tragedy seriously by the fact that the country’s senior law officer, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland (pictured), and Holyrood Justice Secretary Kenny 
MacAskill have become directly involved. It will be Mulholland’s decision whether there is any prosecutions and if a fatal accident inquiry should be held. On the latter, there must be no doubt. It must be held, but will only be done once – if – any prosecutions are brought.

Had these deaths happened just a few miles away, across the border in England, there would have been automatic coroner’s inquiries – public court hearings looking into all aspects of the fatalities.

In Scotland, we don’t have such a system. We rely on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to decide if a fatal accident inquiry, in public before a sheriff, should be held. In the case of the Jim Clark Rally tragedies, there should be no doubt whatsoever in Frank Mulholland’s mind. He must use the “serious public concern” option open to him to order such a probe.

Fatal accident inquiries do not apportion blame. Their findings cannot be used as an argument in any civil hearing where one side seeks financial recompense from another. They are held to determine what happened; what, if anything, went wrong; what, if anything, could have been done to prevent death.

And, to me, more importantly, to determine what can be done to prevent, as far as possible, a tragedy of similar like happening again.