I would like to make a statement about the fatalities that occurred last Saturday near Swinton in the Borders during the Jim Clark memorial rally.
I know that the whole chamber will wish to join me in expressing condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured. The three spectators who died were John Leonard Stern, aged 71, from Bearsden; Elizabeth Allan, aged 63, from Barrhead; and her partner, Iain Provan, aged 64, also from Barrhead. Above all, our thoughts are with their grieving families at this difficult time. It is important now that we give the bereaved not only all possible support but the time and privacy to grieve in peace and to make their funeral arrangements.
The two casualties who were transferred to Edinburgh royal infirmary are continuing to receive on-going care there. One is in a satisfactory condition, and the other remains in a critical condition. We all hope and pray that they will both make a full and speedy recovery from their injuries.
Just after 4 pm on Saturday afternoon, a rally car left the road at the Swinton section of the Jim Clark rally and collided with a number of spectators. Three people died and one was seriously injured. One casualty was later evacuated by air ambulance to Edinburgh royal infirmary. Earlier the same day, at around 2 pm, another rally car left the road during a different stage, injuring six people. All six were taken to the Borders general hospital for treatment, and one of those injured was also subsequently transferred to Edinburgh royal infirmary.
The incident has come as a tremendous shock to that Berwickshire community and to the wider motorsport family. All across Scotland and far beyond, people are sharing the sadness of this tragic event and stand ready to offer whatever support they can.
As the First Minister said on Saturday, this was desperately sad and difficult news for the Borders. People out for the weekend to enjoy their motorsport and to remember the achievements of one of the world’s great racing drivers did not return home. That was the tragic outcome of this year’s rally, and it was an outcome that shocked us all and which will live with us for years to come.
Saturday was a black day for the rally, for the Borders and for Scotland, but we must and will learn lessons. We need to understand what caused Saturday’s fatalities and ensure that the tragic events in the Borders help us make future rallies safer.
Yesterday, the Lord Advocate and I went to Kelso to receive a briefing on Saturday’s tragic events from Police Scotland and Scottish Borders Council. We were briefed on the event, the incidents, the emergency response and the spectator safety arrangements. At the weekend I also spoke to the leader of Scottish Borders Council, David Parker, about the incident, and I have met with the council’s chief executive.
All three emergency services—Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service—as well as the national health service and Scottish Borders Council were involved in the immediate response to the incidents, and Police Scotland family liaison officers have been deployed to support the next of kin of the deceased. I would like to thank everyone who assisted in the response to these terrible incidents.
A full police investigation into the circumstances is now under way under the direction of the Crown, and a Police Scotland major investigation team is in place. Primacy lies with the police investigation. The decision on whether to hold a discretionary fatal accident inquiry is for the Lord Advocate alone, as is any decision on whether criminal prosecution is appropriate.
The Jim Clark memorial rally, which began on Friday, is a hugely popular annual event in the Borders and is attended by thousands of spectators over three days. This year’s rally commenced in Duns on Friday 30 May, moved to the Kelso area on Saturday and was due to conclude at Duns on Sunday.
Following the second incident, the Jim Clark Rally executive committee, Scottish Borders Council and Police Scotland took a joint decision to abandon the rally, and the final stages that were scheduled for Sunday were cancelled.
Scotland has a strong tradition and a great history in motorsport. Jim Clark’s name is up there alongside those of Sir Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard and the McRae family. The legacy of those sporting heroes is immense and has been proudly continued by the likes of Dario Franchitti, Allan McNish and Paul Di Resta.
It is a fitting tribute to the late Jim Clark that the rally in his name has taken place in the Scottish Borders since 1970. It is the largest rally in the United Kingdom—some 250 competitors take part in it—and it is the only rally on the UK mainland that takes place on closed public roads. It includes many special stages over its 310 miles.
The Jim Clark Rally Ltd is a company that is owned by the organisers—Berwick & District Motor Club Ltd and Border Ecosse Car Club Ltd. The rally is organised by the Jim Clark Rally executive committee, with assistance from Scottish Borders Council and the British rally championship, and it is one of seven rallies on the 2014 British rally championship calendar. The rally is organised in conjunction with the Motor Sports Association, which is the governing body in the UK. It is responsible for the governance and administration of all major forms of motorsport in the UK, and it controls the technical and sporting rules across the various disciplines. The association’s chief executive, Rob Jones, has said that, once the police investigation has been concluded, the incident will be the subject of full inquiries by the association to ensure that any lessons are learned to assist in the constant drive to provide the highest possible safety standards at all motorsport events.
I know that the Jim Clark rally is a long-standing event that has been part of the local community for 44 years and that it has a good safety record. It is a hugely popular event that has brought enormous benefit to Berwickshire year after year.
The Scottish Government receives an annual report from the organisers. That process allows a review to be carried out of the effects of the rally on the ground of public safety to ensure that lessons learned are carried forward for the future. The legislation that governs the rally was passed in 1996. It provides that ministers may prohibit the holding of the rally or permit it, subject to certain terms and conditions. In the light of Saturday’s events, the Minister for Transport and Veterans will give careful consideration to the public safety aspects of the 2015 rally and the need for conditions. The decision that is taken will be dependent on the information that comes forward from the safety review of the event.
We have had discussions with Police Scotland about the need to review spectator safety more generally. The longer days are with us and we are moving into an unprecedented summer of events. With that in mind, I think that it is appropriate to review safety at public events and to do so speedily. Across the country, there is a busy calendar of events and a huge amount of careful planning has already been done.
Although, as a closed-road and unticketed motor rally, the Jim Clark rally is unique, the Scottish Government will ask Police Scotland to work with event organisers and local authorities to undertake a health check of event planning for events that will take place this summer. That will ensure that robust safety regimes and risk assessment procedures are in place and that licensing conditions are being met. Police Scotland has undertaken to carry out that review over the next four weeks.
Spectator safety must always be paramount. In the light of the deaths at the weekend, the Scottish Government will commission a review of motorsport event safety in Scotland, for which it will draw on safety experts and the knowledge and expertise of the motorsport community. The review will also include Scottish Borders Council, Police Scotland, the Motor Sports Association, event organisers and other key stakeholders. It will include a review of the training and deployment of stewards, as well as all other safety-related controls. The Scottish ministers have the power to impose conditions on the rally, and the Minister for Transport and Veterans will wish to have sight of the review of motorsport event safety’s recommendations before a decision is made on whether to impose such conditions.
Sadly, Scotland has seen human tragedies at sporting events in the past. We have come through those traumatic events, learned the hard lessons and acted on them so that, for example, our major sports stadia are now far safer for large crowds of spectators. That can be of small comfort to those who grieve today, but it is a process that is necessary and important.
Again, on behalf of this Parliament and this country, I extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of all three victims.