I have received notification from the Crown Office this week that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is to face criminal charges over the death of Edinburgh Firefighter Ewan Williamson.
Ewan Williamson died while tackling a blaze at the Balmoral Bar in Dalry Road, Edinburgh on 12 July 2009. News of the criminal charges, under health and safety legislation, follows a lengthy investigation into the incident.
Although Mr Williamson was a firefighter with the Lothian and Borders service, the charges will be brought against the new national service which launched at the start of this month.
Before news of the charges emerged, I wrote to the new Chief Officer expressing my hope that the launch of the national service would provide fresh impetus to resolve the case. Almost four years after Mr Williamson’s death his family and the FBU are still fighting to get the truth about what happened.
I hope that now the Crown Office has been granted permission to bring charges, the case will be dealt with as quickly as possible. Until that happens, there can be no closure for the family, for friends or colleagues and lessons cannot be learned to prevent such tragic incidents occurring in future.
More generally, this case highlights concerns about the need for the justice system to react to such incidents in terms of resolving health and safety concerns more quickly.
In the absence of a Fatal Accident Inquiry there has been no transparency and no chance for questions to be asked in public about an incident which happened nearly four years ago.
What changes need to be made to fire service procedures as a result of the incident, what lessons can be learned and what will the timescale now be for the forthcoming legal procedures? I don’t believe that this is an efficient system and think that identifying lessons to be learned should be a central aspect of investigations, alongside the need to hold those responsible to account.
I am pleased that my colleague Patricia Ferguson MSP is now taking forward a Member’s Bill to address these concerns in relation to Fatal Accident Inquiries.
The proposals will seek to address current concerns over transparency and delays in the FAI process while promoting a greater role for the families of the deceased and ensuring that lessons are learned from fatal accidents.
While these proposals may come too late to help the Williamson’s, I believe we have a duty to ensure that families affected by fatal accidents can rely on the system to react quickly and sensitively to their needs.