Frantic Glasgow bin lorry crewman screamed at driver 'You're killing people Harry'
Council worker punched unconscious colleague as vehicle hit Christmas shoppers in George Square, inquiry hears
Published 23/07/2015 | 11:32
A CREW member on a bin lorry that killed six Christmas shoppers punched the unconscious driver as it careered across a busy square and screamed, “You’re killing people Harry”, an inquiry has heard.
Matthew Telford, 46, told a fatal accident inquiry there was “panic” inside the vehicle after the experienced driver Harry Clarke collapsed at the wheel.
He described his frantic attempts to wake his colleague on a dramatic first day of the hearing, during which graphic footage was shown to the court.
Relatives of those who died listened to an account of the lorry's journey from Queen Street to George Square in the centre of Glasgow, where it came to rest when it hit a hotel.
The family members left the court while video was played showing victims being struck by the vehicle. The court was also told of pedestrians fleeing its path and a couple throwing a buggy containing their three-year-old granddaughter to safety.
Mr Telford, part of the three-man crew, said he had no training in what to do if someone fell ill at the wheel.
He told the court that December 22 started as an ordinary day with the crew in “quite a joyful mood” because of the time of year, talking about Christmas and football.
They were chatting when he felt the vehicle veer to the left and turned to 58-year-old Mr Clarke and shouted: “Harry, what are you ******* doing?" When there was no response he screamed: "You're killing people, Harry".
He said the driver’s head was slumped to one side, and then his “whole body slumped to the left”. His hands were not on the steering wheel and he was being held up by his seatbelt.
Mr Telford added that "a bit of panic set in" as he screamed at the driver.
“I was stretching my seatbelt and started punching him on the back to get a response from him. The vehicle was still going to the left and at some point hit the pavement."
The witness struggled to continue with his evidence as he described the lorry hitting pedestrians.
When the vehicle stopped, he and his colleague Henry Toal got out and tried to help Mr Clarke, who was unconscious, groaning and “grey”. Five minutes later the driver asked what had happened.
Asked if he could have done anything to stop the truck, Mr Telford said: "I don't think I could have done anything. Suppose I'm always going to be asking myself that question."
He added that he did not believe he could have reached the steering wheel or the brake without having to climb over the driver.
The court heard that there were unopened bottles of beer in the bin lorry’s cab on the day of the crash.
But Mr Telford said he has no knowledge of them, it would be against council policy and no-one had been drinking.
He said he had received no training in what to do if someone became unwell but procedures had changed since, with crews given daily risk assessment sheets each morning. Glasgow City Council also carried out health and safety checks each morning.
A refuse collector for 18 years, Mr Telford said he believed Mr Clarke had undergone an operation on his hands, but had no other health problems, such as dizziness or fainting.
He added that he had received safety training in working at the rear of the lorry but had no knowledge of the vehicle’s controls.
An agreed “minute-of-fact” read to the inquiry said the road surface was in a good state or repair and the condition of the vehicle was not a factor.
The inquiry will focus on the medical background of the driver, his fitness to hold a licence and his employment record and training.
The FAI will also examine whether anything could have been done to bring the lorry to a controlled stop and explore the route it took, as well as considering technical aspects of the vehicle itself.
Erin McQuade, 18, her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and his 69-year-old wife Lorraine, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, died in Queen Street.
Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, were killed when the vehicle mounted the pavement before crashing into the hotel. Another ten people were also injured.
The inquiry began with a minute’s silence after Sheriff John Beckett offered his condolences to the relatives.
He told family members in Glasgow Sheriff Court: "I can only imagine the shock, pain and anguish which you have suffered following your sudden and terrible loss."
The FAI, expected to last around six weeks, was ordered after prosecutors said there was no evidence to warrant criminal proceedings.