Mr. James McColm

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 10:17 pm on 16th June 1992.

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Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South 10:17 pm, 16th June 1992

I am grateful to you for allowing me this Adjournment debate, Madam Speaker. The case before you is that of Mr. James McColm. I am also indebted for the assistance of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook).

At 12.30 pm on Sunday, 9 July, 1989, Mr. James McColm who was 69 years old and a war veteran, having been injured in the famous battle for the bridge at Nijmegen in 1944, was walking home from the local masonic club, having enjoyed a pint and a game of dominoes. Being a victim of emphysema, he was not able to walk fast. He was knocked down on a well-lit section of Townhead street in Stevenston by a local taxi. He died in hospital on 11 July 1989 of injuries sustained in that accident. His sons, Edward and John McColm, could not understand how the taxi had failed to avoid their father. The more questions they asked, the less sense was forthcoming.

According to the police the only witnesses were the driver and a 14-year-old pedestrian, both of whom said that Mr. McColm had crossed the street in the opposite direction to his normal way home. The first question that remains unsolved is why he would cross and then re-cross the same road.

The sons eventually obtained a copy of the post mortem report from Crosshouse hospital where their father died, after it had cleared with the procurator fiscal that they could receive that copy. After consulting someone in the medical profession, it was determined that the injuries sustained were consistent with their father crossing the road as though he was heading home.

Unfortunately, the police had completed their investigation and the procurator fiscal in Kilmarnock had decided that "no proceedings were necessary". Therefore, the driver was not prosecuted and no order was made for a fatal accident inquiry. During that period, meetings were held with the procurator fiscal in Kilmarnock. The first was on 2 August 1989, when John McColm, one of the brothers, and his wife Margaret, had an informal discussion with him. They were shown the witnesses' statements and were informed that the procurator fiscal was preparing to meet the witnesses. My second question is, did he ever meet them?

Sometime after the first meeting, Edward McColm, the other brother, telephoned the procurator fiscal and asked to be supplied with the post mortem report and the witnesses' statements. Both requests were denied to him. The second meeting with the procurator fiscal, held on 19 January 1990, was attended by John and Edward McColm, each with a solicitor.

The sons had prepared a diagram of the accident and a list of questions, which remain unanswered to this day. Where was their father lying? What was the position of the car? Where was the witness standing? Were there any other witnesses? The brothers were of the opinion that there were at least two other witnesses from the Kilmarnock area and, because of that, they advertised in the local paper, the Kilmarnock Standard. To this day no witnesses apart from the original two have come forward.

The procurator fiscal said that he could not provide any of the information requested and that he was obliged to give only the names and addresses of the witnesses to the accident. He stated that to give the reasons for his decision or to supply any of the information that he had would be against the public interest. How can that be?

How do the brothers know that the procurator fiscal and the police have carried out their duties? How do they know that the Lord Advocate has carried out his duties? Edward McColm asked the procurator fiscal those questions to which he replied that "there was a chain of accountability". At that point Edward McColm answered that it was "a closed chain of accountability". It seems wrong that, in the case of James McColm, "no proceedings" is all that need be reported as the decision. No justification is needed by the Crown Office. The brothers have been kept in the dark, the only requirement being that they be given the witnesses' names and addresses.

A number of questions remain unanswered. Why was there no fatal accident inquiry, what damage would be done by releasing the information that the brothers request, and how could giving such information be against the public interest?

Mr. Edward McColm wrote to the Lord Advocate citing annual road death figures for Ayrshire—for Cunninghame and Kilmarnock—for 1989 and 1990 and asked for a breakdown to discover in how many cases fatal accident inquiries had been held and in how many cases the file had been marked "no proceedings." He was informed: The statistics required by you are not readily available.

Eventually, in a letter from the Lord Advocate dated 4 February 1992 to David Lambie, the former Member of Parliament for Cunninghame, South, an answer was given, but the number of road accident fatalities reported to the procurator fiscal over the two-year period was shown as 46 cases involving 52 deaths. The chief constable's report, which I gave to the Minister yesterday, for those two years showed the number of fatalities as 51. Was that one death too many for the Crown Office, or was one death missing from the police inquiries? I am speaking of the police reports issued by Andrew Sloan, the former Chief Constable of Strathclyde.

In that letter of 4 February 1992, the Lord Advocate said that Mr. Lambie should know that the members of the McColm family have attended at the PF office on three occasions. In fact, they met on only two occasions, on 2 August 1989 and on 19 January 1990. Those discrepancies are a worrying factor in a case that the brothers are now convinced had led to some kind of cover-up. How is it possible, from the legal point of view, to demonstrate in such a way as to break down the wall of silence that the brothers assume has occurred in this case?

My understanding of the law is that, if the brothers were so inclined, they could exhume Mr. McColm's body, take it to England and bury it there. They would then be granted a fatal accident inquiry in England and it would be able to examine all the circumstances of the accident in Scotland. Something is basically wrong if that is the true position.

The relatives of Mr. McColm would then be able, having received satisfaction after three years —it will be the anniversary shortly of the beginning of the case—to re-exhume Mr. McColm's body and return it to Scotland for reburial. They would then have had the satisfaction of establishing the facts of Mr. McColm's death. They would feel that their father could rest in peace, and they, at last, could get on with their lives.

The procedural irony between the fatal accident laws of England and Scotland should be addressed as a matter of urgency. This is one of many similar cases where a fatal accident inquiry has been denied by the procurator fiscal.

The Scottish Campaign Against Irresponsible Drivers has been campaigning for several years for the bereaved families of road accident victims to have the automatic right to an inquiry. The view of Isobel Brydie of SCALD was echoed by her colleague, Wendy Moss. Isobel Brydie said: Part of the process of getting over a death in a family is finding out the facts. Until they know the facts, the grieving process cannot he completed. There is meant to he a procedure just now for helping next of kin but it simply isn't working.

It is essential that the McColm family find out all the circumstances of their father's death. The only way in which that can happen is if a fatal accident inquiry is held into the death of their father, James McColm.

At this time of commitment to open government, with charters of rights for almost everything, it would be satisfying to all those affected if the Government demonstrated tonight a change of attitude and instructed all the organisations most at fault to end the veil of secrecy. Let us hope that the wall of silence can be broken down. I await the Minister's reply with interest.