Police chief House under pressure as probe starts into death crash controversy

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By Newsnet.scot Reporter

Controversial Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House is being backed by the Scottish Government in the aftermath of the Lamara Bell affair, when a 25 year old woman was left injured and trapped in a crashed car beside here boyfriend’s dead body for three days after police failed to follow up a call.

Lamara’s death yesterday, four days after she was recovered from the wrecked Renault Clio near Stirling, followed an unprecedented sequence of events which have put massive pressure on House and his force as investigations begin.

Scottish Justice Minister Michael Matheson
Scottish Justice Minister Michael Matheson

Today House received the backing of Justice Minister Michael Matheson, as the Scottish Government requested that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary undertake an urgent review of all police call handling.

However, the result of that review could result in stern criticism for the beleaguered chief and his force.

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner is also investigating the incident.

Asked on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland whether House should consider his position, Matheson replied: “I think the chief constable has a number of challenges which he has dealt with coming into post.

“He has also acknowledged there has been a number of mistakes made over the last couple of years, and clearly there’s been a mistake made with this particular case, and he’s sought to try and address them.

“It’s important the focus now has to be on making sure this type of thing cannot occur again and we learn the lessons from that.”

House also has the tacit backing of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, although a final decision may rest with the outcome of the investigations.

The chief constable has been criticised in the past for his management style, as well as the actions of his force in implementing various actions including “stop and search” laws, the handling of alleged sectarianism particularly in connection with football and the creation of “shared services” including the call handling centre at Bilston Glen.

Lamara Bell and her partner John Yuill, 28, were travelling home to Falkirk from a social gathering at Lochearnhead in the early hours of Sunday July 5th when their car left the motorway near Stirling Services. It is believed that Yuill, who was driving, was killed instantly.

Concerned family members raised the alarm later that day, and a police appeal was published on Monday 6th.

When the car was recovered another two days later last Wednesday, it emerged that a member of the public had in fact reported a sighting of the car crashed in woodland the previous Sunday in the late morning. The 101 call was taken by an officer at Bilston Glen, but for reasons unknown it was not logged in the police system.

Passenger Bell lay trapped in the car for more than three days, suffering broken limbs and ultimately kidney failure through dehydration. She was rushed to Glasgow South University Hospital and placed into an artificial coma in an attempt to help her to recover, but died yesterday.

As police were appealing for details of the couple and their blue car, no connection appears to have been made with the Sunday morning call or the route between Lochearnhead and Falkirk. It is believed that the position that the car came to rest was not visible from the main road.

The appalling circumstances of the incident have re-awakened concern about centralisation of Police Scotland services, and the accountability attached to them. House’s public apology to the families of Bell and Yuill has been criticised for coming too late (last Friday), and information has been hard to come by.

Graeme Pearson MSP: Critical
Graeme Pearson MSP: Critical

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former Strathclyde Police assistant chief constable and head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said the incident should “chime a warning” to those in authority.

Writing in The Herald newspaper, Pearson pointed out that while House had claimed that he could not go into the facts of the situation, he had been able to “point the finger” at one officer in Bilston Glen and disclose the information that the 101 call had been answered within six seconds. “This case reveals further evidence police systems, culture and structures are failing to properly support those on the front line”, alleged Pearson.

There have been reports that the officer concerned was unfamiliar with the workings on the computer system. Ministers will be pressing the inspectorate to report as quickly as possible.

As the inquiries continue, the fate of Sir Stephen House – who has indicated he will not seek a new term after next year – may hang in the balance.