THE hearings in the Clutha fatal accident inquiry have concluded some five years and nine months after the police helicopter crashed into the roof of the Glasgow pub. You report today that lawyers representing some of the bereaved families have criticised the length of time taken after the accident to hold the inquiry ("Clutha probe is accused of ‘sidelining’ crash victims", The Herald, August 6). The family of Sheku Bayoh has been waiting more than four years for a fatal accident inquiry into his death. There has still to be an inquiry into the crash of the Super Puma helicopter at Sumburgh in August 2013 nearly six years after that accident and last month Willie Rennie spoke out at the delays in holding an inquiry into the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill following their accident on the M9 in July 2015.

It is less than four years since the Scottish Parliament passed the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Act 2016 to modernise the law. During evidence sessions and debates on the bill, the point was made repeatedly that steps had to be taken to speed up the holding of inquiries. The passing of the Act has made absolutely no difference.

In 2014 I represented the families of the passengers and crew of the Super Puma which crashed off Peterhead in 2009. At the conclusion I spoke out at the time taken to hold that inquiry. In his determination Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle endorsed the view that five years was far too long a delay.

The 2016 Act has made no difference because the Crown Office effectively remains accountable to no-one for the time taken to gather evidence and institute the holding of an inquiry. During the evidence sessions into the bill in May 2015, I suggested to the Justice Committee that the Crown Office has a conflict of interest. On the one hand it is responsible for the prosecution of crime: on the other it is responsible for investigating sudden and unexplained deaths. At present, so long as there remains the possibility of a prosecution (for which again there is no time limit), no steps are taken to consider the need for an inquiry, whose purpose is not to point the finger of blame but to ascertain the facts so that future accidents and deaths can be avoided. There is clearly a public interest in the effective prosecution of crime, but there is no reason why that should be regarded as superior to the public interest in the prevention of fatal accidents. So long as responsibility for both these procedures remains with the Crown Office nothing is likely to change.

I fully endorse Willie Rennie’s call for a review of the current system.

Tom Marshall,