Scrutiny spotlight on rally

Floral tributes on Swinton village green following the death of three spectators during the Jim Clark Rally
Floral tributes on Swinton village green following the death of three spectators during the Jim Clark Rally

The current format of the Jim Clark Rally will be subjected to close scrutiny after what is thought to be the worst accident in Scottish rallying.

The organising committee will await the outcome of the police investigation into the incident in which three spectators were killed at Little Swinton before considering what to do about next year’s event.

Jim Clark Rally 2013 Langton (2) stage

Jim Clark Rally 2013 Langton (2) stage

But Duns driver Euan Thorburn fears there may well be a shortage of volunteer marshals in future following Saturday’s tragedy and the immediate reaction to it on social media.

“I don’t know what will happen now,” he said. “I mean, all the organisers and marshals are unpaid volunteers. It’s a thankless task for them at the best of times.”

Fellow Duns driver Dale Robertson added: “It’s very, very sad and I don’t know how this will affect the future of the rally. As many of the witnesses have said, the marshals on the stage did everything they possibly could.”

The sport’s governing body, the Motor Sports Association, will be conducting a full enquiry into the two accidents – there was one before the fatal – once the police investigation has concluded.

A spokesperson confirmed: “Police Scotland are now in control of all aspects of the investigations into the two accidents.

“As with any serious incident, [the] accidents will also be subject to full enquiries by the MSA to ensure that any lessons are learned to assist in the constant drive to provide the highest possible safety standards at all motorsport events.”

Established in 1970, the Jim Clark Rally is the third round of the British Rally Championship.

It is unique in being the only closed-roads rallying weekend on the UK mainland, taking place over three days on routes in the Duns and Kelso areas. The rally was initially a round of the Shell/Motor World Scottish Rally Championship and has become an annual feature of the rallying calendar.

Starting out as a forest event, it became Britain’s first mainland closed public road event in 1997 – though the shift required a Local Act of Parliament to provide the necessary legislation to allow it to go ahead.

The format of the three-day event, incorporating a mixture of fast, twisting, wide and narrow roads, along with night driving, makes the rally a unique test of skill and endurance, harking back to the days when drivers covered long distances for hours on end.

The future of the event is in the hands of the organising committee.

Superintendent Phil O’Kane of Police Scotland explained: “The rally is a unique event and the responsibility rests with the organising committee. There is an Act of Parliament specific to the Jim Clark Rally, and all safety considerations are the responsibility of the organising committee.

“But I do know it is well stewarded. Safety is a very big consideration in the planning of it. We, as Police Scotland, are involved with that planning as a supporting agency.”

Alan Johnstone, Jim Clark Rally media manager, told ITV: “This is the first fatality we have had and it’s been one very bad day. We try our level, level best to get it as safe as possible. You’ll never get it 100 per cent by its very nature.”

Berwickshire councillor Michael Cook added: “This is an event which has been taking place here for many, many years. It’s been going without incident for over 40 years now, and to have this happen has really rocked the community. It’s a black day, there is no getting away from that fact.

“It’s a key event in the sporting and cultural calendar of Berwickshire and the Borders. It’s taken place over many years incident-free, and it’s now been rocked by tragedy and that’s desperate news for everyone here and motorsport enthusiasts.

“We’re very proud of the tradition of motor sport in this area and clearly the rally is something which has been a hugely significant event for us over the years.”

Thorburn added: “I hope we don’t lose the rally as it brings a lot of money into the area and many local businesses benefit. It would be a real shame if it were to stop running.”