Date set for inquiry into Lanark school fatal bus crash

A DATE has finally been set for the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of 17-year-old Lanark Grammar pupil Natasha Paton in a coach crash.

The beginning of proceedings at Lanark Sheriff Court on November 5 will come more than two and a half years after Natasha lost her life when the vehicle carrying a school party on a trip crashed near Biggar. Natasha was the only fatality.

There will be an interim, pre-inquiry session at the court in October at which the hearing will formally begin but proceedings will not get fully underway until the following month.

It is not yet known just how long the inquiry will take; Lanark Sheriff Court heard the longest such investigation in its long history just last year with the marathon probe into the death in a helicopter crash of Lanark rally ace Colin McRae, an adult friend and two children, including McRae’s son.

The lengthy hearing into that accident – in which all those directly involved perished and no-one actually saw the crash happen – still had a witness list of over 100.

In the forthcoming probe into the circumstances of Natasha’s death, it is as yet unknown just how many, if any, of the 38 surviving Grammar pupils, staff members and coach crew who were on the bus at the time of the tragedy will be called to give evidence nor if that list of witnesses will include education chiefs, bus company management, experts and others not directly involved.

At the time of the accident, rumours abounded about the circumstances surrounding the tragedy which took place in snowy weather as pupils had barely begun their trip to Alton Towers, speculation the Gazette refused to print in deference to the bereaved family and to allow time for a proper investigation to take place.

No-one realised at that time that it would take so long for a formal Fatal Accident Inquiry to convene; it is reported that the police investigation into the incident was completed just six months after the accident and the Crown Office had the report by October 2010.

However, it was only last month that it was announced that there would be a Fatal Accident Inquiry, finally confirming that no-one would face criminal charges over the incident.

It will be the second time that Lanark Sheriff Court has had the harrowing duty to investigate a fatal school bus crash, it being the scene of a lengthy inquiry into the death of two Biggar High School pupils from the Carnwath area almost two decades ago.

That inquiry led to calls for seatbelts to be installed and used in all school transport.

Indeed, one of the bereaved mothers even unsuccessfully stood for council election as a compulsory school bus seatbelt single issue candidate.

It appears that the full measures campaigned for at the time were never consolidated into law and doubtless much attention will be paid to the eventual findings of this new inquiry and its recommendations on seatbelt provision/use, especially on school transport.

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