Scotland’s Lord Advocate has apologised to a family who waited 12 years to find out
no fatal accident inquiry (FAI) would be held over a tragedy which claimed the lives
of five people in South Uist.
Archie and Murdina Macpherson, their two children - Hannah and Andrew - and Murdina's
father, Calum Campbell, died in a severe storm in January 2005.
Their cars were trapped in the rising flood water as they attempted to drive to the
safety of Mr Macpherson’s parent’s house.
The nearby South Ford causeway acted as a dam as a strong onshore winds - had nowhere
to go but invading the low lying coastal road at Clachan in Iochdar.
An inquiry would have formally determined the cause of deaths. In considering measures
to prevent a repeat of the tragic events, the families believe a sheriff would make
a recommendation over the causeway’s dam effect.
Such an official recommendation would deliver more weight and be hard for the local
council to ignore say relatives.
Delays set in immediately it has emerged in a letter Scotland's most senior law officer,
the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, sent to MP Angus Macneil who raised the issue
Mr Wolffe said it is “not clear” why the police took a month to report the deaths
to the procurator fiscal.
He backed the Crown’s move to pause the case until a council commissioned hydrodynamic
study of the causeway between South Uist and Benbecula was published.
That report in 2012 confirmed that the causeway was indeed acting as a dam.
Even then there was little progress for an inquiry for a further three year due to
an “administrative failure.”
Eventually, the final decision rejected holding a FAI as the Crown believes the “comprehensive”
causeway report already provided sufficient information about the cause of the deaths
and also highlighted measures to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.
Mr Wolffe -w ho entered the post last year - said the investigation was not completed
as “expeditiously” as it should have been and was characterised by “unacceptable”
He added: "That will inevitably have caused further distress to the family and I
have written to them to express my sincere apologies for that."
Mr Wolffe also said a sheriff’s recommendation in a FAI could not “compel” the comhairle
or government to create openings in the causeway.