Sheriff: Delays in Fatal Accident Inquiries pile on the agony for grieving families – Express
Christine McCrossan said bereaved relatives are put in “distress” when probes are not launched within a reasonable time. Her comments echo similar remarks made earlier this year by Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland. He recently condemned the delay on a decision to hold an FAI following a helicopter crash on Shetland more than six years ago.
Sheriff McCrossan spoke out after a probe found that a suicidal prisoner may not have killed himself if staff had followed proper procedures.
William Hume, 47, hanged himself in his cell less than 36 hours after being admitted to HMP Grampian in Peterhead. He died in May 2014 but an inquiry was not started until last year.
Mr Hume had been deemed a possible suicide risk by a social worker, but flaws in the prison’s system meant he was not placed on an anti-suicide programme.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry at Peterhead Sheriff Court heard the Scottish Prison Service launched an investigation after the death and changed procedures for dealing with prisoners.
Sheriff McCrossan ruled more could have been done in prison to prevent his death – but added: “I would comment that at the commencement of this inquiry over four and a half years had passed since Mr Hume took his own life. The purpose of an FAI is to establish the circumstances of the death, to consider what steps – if any – might be taken to prevent other deaths in similar circumstances and to make appropriate recommendations.
“No criticism is directed against any individual but the effectiveness of holding such an inquiry after such a delay must be questioned. This does not even begin to take into account the distress occasioned to families in re-opening the circumstances around the painful loss of a loved one so long after the event.”
Figures released earlier this year by the Liberal Democrats claimed families are currently waiting up to eight years for Fatal Accident Inquiries. One probe, completed in 2014/15, was carried out 10 years after the death, and there are currently 127 outstanding inquiries.
Mr Carmichael made his comments in a House of Commons debate, where he said relatives were being denied closure.
He said: “For those families, five-and-a-half-years after the death of their loved ones, not to know whether there are to be criminal proceedings or whether there is to be a Fatal Accident Inquiry, is unacceptable.”
A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: “We accept that in some cases the time taken to complete a thorough investigation has been too long. COPFS has increased the resource available to the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit with a view to reducing the time required to complete complex death investigations.”