Rally deaths could have been avoided

The deaths of three motorsport fans near Swinton during 2014's Jim Clark Rally could have been avoided if better safety precautions had been in place, a sheriff has ruled.

Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, 9:27 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:23 pm
Floral tributes left after the fatal crash during the Swinton stage of the 2014 Jim Clark Rally.

Sheriff Kenneth Maciver slammed the rally’s system for identifying and overseeing safe viewing spots for spectators as ‘weak, ambiguous and ultimately inadequate’.

In his fatal accident inquiry report, published this week after hearings earlier this year, Mr Maciver said it was down to good luck rather than good planning that the car responsible for the three deaths had been stopped from going any further, and potentially knocking over even more onlookers, by a post and hedgerow.

The three killed were photographer Iain Provan, 64, his partner Betty Allan, 63, both of Barrhead, East Renfrewshire, and Len Stern, 71, of Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire.

They died after rally driver David Carney lost control of his car, careering off the road and crashing into them in May that year, Mr Maciver found.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The report follows a joint inquiry at Edinburgh Sheriff Court into the three deaths at the 2014 Jim Clark Rally and that of spectator Joy Robson, 51, at the Snowman Rally near Inverness in 2013. Mr Maciver found that the three deaths at the Borders rally could have been averted if people had not been allowed to watch it from an unsafe vantage point.

He writes: “In respect of the Jim Clark Rally 2014, I find that there was a weak, ambiguous, and ultimately inadequate verification system for checking the proper performance of the work of stage commanders or stage set-up crews in delineating and clearly identifying areas which, for safety reasons, were prohibited for spectators.”

A spokesman for the rally’s organisers said: “This is quite a lengthy and detailed report which will have to be read and digested, after which senior officials will meet up to discuss it and its findings.”

Sheriff Maciver issued 12 recommendations for rally organisers and other authorities and suggested a further 11 matters for consideration.

Saying that it was lucky Mr Carney’s car had not careered further off the road, potentially putting more people in danger, Mr Maciver writes: “The car which crashed at the Jim Clark Rally in 2014 came to rest just within what would and should have been the 3m prohibition area, but, in fact, that was good fortune linked to the fact that it hit a large solid strainer post and a substantial hedgerow.

“It should be recognised that on many occasions a car going off the road at speed in such a location would travel much further, and I therefore suggest that consideration be given by rally organisers, that for open locations such as entrances, the safety zone or box should be many yards deep, as was the general pre-2014 policy at that rally.”

A designated prohibited area north of the Leet Bridge should have been created, delineated and identified so that it clearly banned spectators or photographers from standing there, he said.

He recommends that all rallies should have clear plans for setting up areas off limits to spectators and those plans be given to marshals and the crews of all safety cars.

In addition, he advises, at least one safety car should be given the job of ensuring that any such banned areas are properly marked out, adding: “A patent omission was missed time and again by several different cars.”

A spokesman for the rally’s organisers said: “Those involved in the organisation of the rally have received a copy of the sheriff’s determination.

“This is quite a lengthy and detailed report which will have to be read and digested, after which senior officials will meet up to discuss it and its findings.”

In his report, Mr Maciver also calls for rally organisers to appoint a spectator safety officer at the early stages of planning and for all marshals to wear coloured vests to make sure there is no confusion about their role.

Rally organisers are also recommended to have a system for recording crashes, accidents, cars leaving the track or near misses to help them identify possible accident blackspots.

Mr Maciver also wants to see the introduction of a warning light system within rally cars to make sure they can be stopped as quickly as possible in the event of further accidents.