The head of the Scottish Police Federation has warned that cuts to officer number could lead to a repeat of the tragedy on the M9 that saw Lamara Bell left in a crashed car for three days.

David Kennedy, the general secretary of the organisation that represents rank and file officers, said that if there were not enough police officers “to get to calls that they are meant to attend” then “people may die.”

READ MORE: Lamara Bell and John Yuill: FAI into deaths to begin

Miss Bell and John Yuill were driving back from a camping trip when their car crashed on the M9, at the eastbound junction with the M80.

In 2015, an initial call to the police reporting a vehicle at the bottom of the embankment at the side of the motorway was not acted upon after a police control-room operator failed to log the 101 call reporting the crash.

It was only when local farmer Robert Findlay discovered the car three days later and contacted police that officers attended. 

The crash had killed John Yuill, the driver of the car, but Lamara, 25, was still alive when Mr Findlay found her.

She died in hospital four days later.

The Herald:

Police Scotland admitted their failings "materially contributed" to her death.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry into the deaths opened last month.

READ MORE: Sheriff commends farmer who found crash victims undiscovered for three days

When Police Scotland was formed in 2013, 17,496 officers were employed, while figures show that number dropped to 16,600 as of the end of June this year.

Mr Kennedy told 1919 Magazine that 600 more officers could leave the force as a result of budget cuts.

He said: “The reality is we have a lack of officers.

“All we can do is keep highlighting it and saying to the public that any notion that policing will remain the same and will remain as safe as it has been is just not going to happen.

“People need to realise that, and government needs to realise that.

“We might see more M9 cases appearing where people actually die, because that’s the harsh reality if there are not enough police officers to get to calls that they are meant to attend.

“People may die.”

He said the Federation had received reports of probationer officers going on the beat with other probationers, where they would usually be accompanied by someone of more experience.

“It’s happening all over the country. In the more urban areas, it’s probably happening more than often,” he said.

“It has a massive impact on cops because they just want to do their job and they will try their utmost to do their job but they’re at the point now where they’re so overstretched they can’t do their job.

“We’ve tried to tell officers they need to try and do the job that they have to do but what happens when you try to take on too much, that’s when mistakes get made.

“It’s bleak. If the Scottish Government properly funded the police service then it wouldn’t be bleak, but they are choosing not to.”

READ MORE: Three police stations in Rutherglen and Hamilton West set to close

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay said: “SNP ministers have arrogantly ignored repeated and explicit public statements from Police Scotland's most senior figures about the devastating impact of their decisions.

“But Humza Yousaf surely cannot ignore this stark life-or-death warning from rank-and-file officers who are paying the price of severe and sustained SNP cuts.

“The First Minister needs to start listening and ensure that the national force is given the required resources to keep people safe. He should start by agreeing to the Scottish Conservative commitment to hire 1,000 extra officers.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said:  “These comments lay bare the heavy toll on our police service of repeated budget crises. Government neglect has resulted in a loss of skill and experience while leaving the service stretched dangerously thin.  

“When the SNP’s botched centralisation of policing didn’t deliver the savings promised, backroom staff were laid off with officers brought in to cover these roles. That was never a sustainable model." 

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Police officers perform an essential role keeping Scotland’s communities safe which is why the Scottish Government is investing £1.45 billion in policing in 2023/24, despite difficult financial circumstances caused by UK Government austerity.

“There are over 350 more officers than in 2007 and around 1,480 new recruits have joined Police Scotland in the last 18 months.

“Scotland also continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales.”