Firefighters case underlines need for change to Fatal Accident Inquiry system

A memorial to Ewan Williamson is displayed at Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service HQ

Towards the end of 2012, my colleague Patricia Ferguson announced her intention to bring forward a bill that would radically amend the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) system in Scotland.

The proposals, which will shortly go out to consultation, 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.

The need for these changes is underlined by the case of Ewan Williamson, the Edinburgh firefighter who died while tackling a blaze at the Balmoral Bar in Dalry Road on 12 July 2009.

Three and a half years after Ewan Williamson’s death his family are still fighting to get the truth about what happened but they have been failed by a system which is not working.

At every turn they have been struggled to get information on the investigation and their views have not been taken into account.  In the end the delays became too much and they were forced to pursue their own legal action to seek answers and justice.

As long as the case remains unresolved, there can be no closure for the family, for Ewan’s friends or his colleagues, and lessons cannot be learned by the fire service to ensure that such tragic incidents do not occur in future.

The experience of the Williamson family since the tragic death of their son goes to the heart of the problems with the current system and underlines the need for the new proposals. 

The FAI process must be more transparent to give families a real say in proceedings and to ensure that recommendations to improve safety at work are made and followed through.

While these proposals may come too late to help the Williamson’s, I will be supporting them to ensure that families affected by fatal accidents can rely on the system to react quickly and sensitively to their needs.