13:17, March 31 356 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-31 13:17:02
Glasgow bin lorry death crash driver avoids jail for new incident

The driver of a bin lorry which crashed, killing six people, has admitted endangering the public just nine months after the tragedy by driving despite having had his licence revoked for medical reasons.

Harry Clarke, 60, was branded “reprehensible” as he was banned from the roads for three years after admitting “culpably and recklessly” driving a car in Glasgow on 20 September 2015 to the danger of the public.

He was sentenced at Glasgow sheriff court on Friday after pleading guilty to the offence at a hearing last month.

Clarke was given a community payback order with a 12-month supervision requirement and 150 hours’ unpaid work. He will have to wear an electronic tag under a restriction of liberty order which means he cannot leave his home between 7pm and 7am.

Clarke had admitted driving in September 2015 in the knowledge he had suffered a loss of consciousness on 22 December 2014 while at the wheel of a moving refuse lorry in Glasgow city centre, resulting in six deaths and leaving 15 people injured.

Sheriff Martin Jones, sentencing, told Clarke he passed the “custody threshold” but that he was legally prevented from jailing him because he was a first offender.

He said: “You must understand that the decision you made to drive your vehicle on the road, even for a short distance, was one which was wholly irresponsible and reprehensible.

“It was highly culpable and placed the safety of the public at risk. That was a risk which had been fully explained to you and led to the revocation of your driving licence on medical grounds.

“You must have been acutely aware of the possible consequences of you suffering a loss of consciousness while driving following the tragic consequences arising from the incident on 22 December 2014.”

Clarke knew he had suffered a loss of consciousness or episode of altered awareness while at the wheel of a stationary bus on 7 April 2010.

The charge stated that he knew, or ought to have known, that he was unfit to drive, and that there was a risk he might lose consciousness or suffer an episode of altered awareness while driving.

He was not prosecuted over the bin lorry crash, with the Crown Office insisting there was insufficient evidence to raise criminal proceedings.

Jack and Lorraine Sweeney, 68 and 69, and their granddaughter Erin McQuade, 18, Stephenie Tait, 29, Jacqueline Morton, 51, and Gillian Ewing, 52, died in the incident.

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) ruled the crash might have been avoided if Clarke had told the truth about his medical history. His licence was revoked indefinitely on medical grounds on 27 June 2015.

At the hearing last month senior fiscal depute Martin Allan told the court neighbours called the police after seeing Clarke driving in Baillieston, Glasgow, on 20 September 2015.

He said: “Both were suspicious about his ability to drive because of the media coverage and they did some research online and found that his licence had been revoked on medical grounds.”

Police went to Clarke’s home on 22 September and he was cautioned and charged. The court heard that he told police: “I have never been out on a public road. I’ve just moved the car in the private car park.”

Ross Yuill, defending Clarke, said his client drove from the residents’ car park of his block of flats through a tunnel on to Buchanan Street and parked near the main entrance to the building so that he could unload some heavy items, driving around 30 yards on the public road.

At around 10pm he drove the vehicle back into the car park and unloaded more items. He added: “He wholly accepts that that decision was a gross error of judgment.”

In a rare legal move, relatives of three crash victims sought permission from senior judges to bring charges against him in a private prosecution. However, judges at the Appeal Court in Edinburgh ruled in November last year the family could not launch a private prosecution.