Bin lorry driver allowed licence back after doctors called him ‘very healthy’
A bin lorry driver whose vehicle struck and killed six people was allowed his licence back after doctors concluded he was “very healthy”, a court has heard. Harry Clarke, 64, was told he had a “completely normal heart” in the months following a December 2014 incident in which six people lost their lives in Glasgow city centre. Mr Clarke, also of Glasgow, was driving the refuse truck which struck and caused the deaths of six people in the city’s Queen Street on December 22, 2014.
He passed out at the wheel of the vehicle in the moments leading up to the fatal collisions. The Court of Session heard on Tuesday how Mr Clarke “surrendered” his driving licence in January 2015 because doctors suspected he had epilepsy. But Judge Lord Ericht heard that a doctor at the former bus driver’s GP practice later wrote to the DVLA asking them to correct the statement that he had epilepsy.
The court heard how Mr Clarke had been “throughly investigated” and medics concluded that he had condition called ‘neurocardiogenic syncopy.’ On Tuesday, advocate Roddy Dunlop QC asked a GP who cared for Mr Clarke, Dr Gerard McKaig, whether the change in diagnosis meant that his patient wouldn’t be “suspended” from driving for 10 years.
Mr Dunlop, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, asked: “Did that mean that the rules regarding epilepsy- which are a 10 year suspension from driving – did not apply. Is that right?”
Dr McKaig replied: “That would be correct yes.” Dr McKaig, who works at Baillieston Health Centre in Glasgow, was giving evidence on the first day of proceedings at Scotland’s highest civil court. The action has been brought by Glasgow City Council against Mr Clarke’s former employer – First Glasgow (No.1) Ltd.
The local authority claims First Glasgow failed to disclose that Mr Clarke lost consciousness at the wheel of a bus in 2010. The public transport firm are contesting the action and its lawyers are arguing that the firm acted appropriately. Clarke, of Glasgow, was driving the refuse truck which struck and caused the deaths of six people in the city’s Queen Street on December 22, 2014.
Student Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents 68-year-old Jack and 69-year-old Lorraine Sweeney lost their lives in the incident. The other people who died were Stephanie Tait, Jacqueline Morton,51, and 52-year-old Gillian Ewing. Crown Office lawyers decided not to prosecute Clarke on the basis that he had a medical condition and there was no evidence to show he broke the law.
18-year-old Erin McQuade was killed alongside her grandmother, Lorraine Sweeney
The families of those who lost their lives after the incident tried to raise a private prosecution against Clarke.
They argued that Clarke had made “misrepresentations” about his medical history to the DVLA and to his employers. However, senior judges didn’t allow the prosecution to proceed. Glasgow City Council also suffered a set back in its action against First Glasgow after another hearing last year at the Court of Session.
Its legal team sought to recover a total of GBP903,714.40 from First Glasgow. In those proceedings, the council’s lawyers claimed the alleged failure to disclose the information about Mr Clarke passing out meant the firm breached a duty of care to the dead pedestrians. However, Lord Ericht ruled against the local authority.
On Tuesday, the court heard that in 2010, Mr Clarke fell unwell whilst driving a bus in Glasgow. The court heard that Mr Clarke reported feeling a “malaise” and a feeling that he may “black out”. Paramedics were called to the scene and passengers were taken off the bus.
But the paramedics decided that Mr Clarke was well enough not to go to hospital. He was then considered fit to return to work and went back to his job. Mr Dunlop, who is acting for First Glasgow, said that Mr Clarke surrendered his driving licence in January 2015 – weeks after the December 2014 incidents.
The court heard that the DVLA then wrote to Mr Clarke giving him formal notification that he couldn’t drive because the law required him “to be free” of epileptic attacks or medication for the condition for a 10 year period. However, the court heard that doctors later examined Mr Clarke and found that he did not have epilepsy.
Emergency services walk past the crashed bin lorry as they attend the scene in George Square (Image: Getty)
A consultant physician wrote to Mr Clarke in February 2015 and stated: “Just to confirm the reason you lost consciousness was that you have a condition called neurocardiogenic syncopy. “The difficulty is that you had no warning which is very difficult for you to take steps to prevent it from happening again.
“Nonetheless you have a completely normal heart – no abnormalities of heart rhythm. “It is obviously very difficult to predict whether this will ever reoccur – only time will tell if this is case. “As emphasised however, you are physically very healthy with a completely normal heart.
I hope this information is helpful. “We would be very happy to be contacted by the DVLA if they require a formal report.” Dr McKaig told Mr Dunlop that a colleague of his wrote to the DVLA to tell the organisation that Mr Clarke did not have epilepsy.
Lord Ericht heard that in April 2015, the DVLA contacted Mr Clarke to tell him that he was going to have his licence given back to him and that the documentation would arrive within 14 days. The court heard that legal guidelines state that people who have only passed out once whilst driving wouldn’t necessarily lose their licence. Mr Dunlop asked Dr McKaig: “So from what we have seen from that is because the DVLA understood that the horrendous events of December 2014 were a one off, Mr Clarke was given his licence back?”
Dr McKaig replied: “Yeah. I think that it was the position they took.” Roddy: “That would be because a single loss of consciousness wouldn’t require a revocation or a surrender of a driving licence at that time?”
Referring to the letter which had been sent to Mr Clarke Dr McKaig replied: “Yes. But it’s unclear from that whether they are deciding whether it is that or a three month ban – both of which would fall within the timescales of that letter.”
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The morning newsletter arrives every day before 9am and the evening newsletter, manually curated by the team, is sent between 4pm and 5pm, giving you a round up of the most important stories we’ve covered that day. To sign up, simply enter your email address into this link here. However, the court heard that in June 2015, the DVLA then contacted Mr Clarke again to tell him that his ‘Group Two’ licence – which allowed him to drive large vehicles – was being “revoked”.
The court heard that the DVLA told Mr Clarke: “It’s clear from the information received that within the last 12 months you’ve lost consciousness or an altered sense of awareness for which the cause has not been determined. Therefore, you are unable to meet the current medical standards.” Mr Clarke was told that he could reapply within 12 months if doctors had established his exact condition and he was on medication which controlled it.
The hearing continues.
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