FAI findings released a decade after fatal accident
Once again serious shortcomings in Scotland’s fatal accident inquiry (FAI) system have been highlighted with the release of FAI findings just days before the tenth anniversary of the tragedy concerned.
Seaman Boguslaw Kopec died on 13 March 2011 following an accident aboard the Forth Guardsman, south of Jura. He was standing in an open bight of rope or wire that tightened and pulled him against the deck railing because the mooring line had not been fastened with a stopper.
He died of severe blunt force chest trauma.
Sheriff Frances McCartney, at Dumbarton Sheriff Court, noted: “The Procurator Fiscal issued a notice of the Inquiry on 24 August 2020. This was 9½ years after Mr Kopec’s death. Not only is that a significant delay for Mr Kopec’s family, but, as will be explained, that delay has had a significant impact on the availability of evidence to the Inquiry.”
SLN has consistently highlighted the endemic problems with the FAI system over the years.
Writing for SLN in 2015, solicitor advocate Tom Marshall, who represented relatives of the victims of the G-REDL helicopter crash at an FAI, warned that inquiries are “taking far too long to commence” and that “the sooner inquiries begin and the more weight that is given to their findings, the more likely it is that changes will save lives and improve working practices”.
His hopes for “a more robust, more responsive and more efficient system which will see inquiries held more quickly” have yet to be realised, however.
A report published in 2019 found that the FAI system was plagued by “unexplained delays” that “have the potential to devalue the purpose” of the system. The HM Chief Inspector of Prosecution’s review of the FAI regime found that three years on from the last thematic report, there had been a “lack of progress in many areas” and that FAIs are characterised by “lengthy intervals of unexplained delays” and “periods of inactivity”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said at the time: “This review has shown once again that the current fatal accident inquiry process is broken.
“FAIs suffer long periods where nothing whatsoever seems to happen. Investigations are still being swamped by bureaucracy and unsustainable workloads. It appears as though the Crown Office is simply incapable of keeping up or driving critical investigations forward. The people that should be at the centre of this process are being sidelined.
“There are serious structural barriers impeding progress. The Justice Secretary and Lord Advocate are failing in their public duties if they don’t consider all options for improvement – that means investigating whether these inquiries need to be removed from the Crown Office as is the case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
The FAI into the death of Mr Kopec also noted that while it was recommended that the captain of the vessel be considered for prosecution, the Crown Office chose not to proceed.
Sheriff McCartney said: “The Maritime and Coastguard Agency completed its investigation and sent a report to the Procurator Fiscal recommending that Captain Zebrowski should be considered for prosecution. No prosecution has taken place. The reason or reasons for the Procurator Fiscal’s decision not to prosecute Captain Zebrowski are unknown. The basis on which the MCA recommended such a prosecution are unknown.”
A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service told SLN: “The Procurator Fiscal received a report relating to a 58-year-old male and an incident said to have occurred on 13 March 2011.
“After careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, Crown Counsel decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time.
“The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”