Scotland

Move to allow FAIs into deaths abroad welcomed

Blair Jordan Image copyright other
Image caption Blair Jordan died after falling on an oil tanker off the coast of Japan in 2009

Fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) could be held into the deaths of Scots abroad under proposed new legislation.

It would allow the Lord Advocate for the first time to hold an FAI where the body had been repatriated.

The proposal has been welcomed by the family of Blair Jordan, who died in 2009 after a fall on an oil tanker in the South China Sea.

Despite six years of searching for answers, his family said they still do not know how and why he died.

The Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Bill followed the review published in 2009 by the former Lord President, Lord Cullen.

Permitting discretionary FAIs into the deaths of Scots abroad was one of 36 recommendations he made.

Caroline Beveridge, whose 17-year-old son Blair Jordan died onboard the BP tanker British Pioneer off the coast of Japan, said the option of an FAI which might have given his family the information they sought about his death was not available at the time in Scotland.

Image caption Caroline Beveridge and her husband Jim believe the new Bill will give other families answers over how their loved ones died

He had been at sea for three weeks on his first trip as a deck cadet officer when he fell 100ft down the pump room into machinery space. No-one saw him fall.

Mrs Beveridge said: "Two reports were written, one by the company and the other by the Isle of Man government. However both investigating teams conducted their enquiries on board the vessel together and at the same time.

"No recommendations were given to improve safety procedures and neither report was clear about how the accident happened. The post mortem was written in Japanese which compounded the confusion even further.

"That is why my husband and I are delighted at the introduction of this new Bill into the Scottish Parliament as it will now allow for inquiries to provide the transparency many people seek as they struggle for answers after the loss of a loved one abroad."

Real prospect

Under the Bill the Lord Advocate would only hold an FAI into a Scots death abroad if he considered the cause had not been sufficiently established in any investigation already carried out.

He must also consider there to be a real prospect that the full circumstances would be established at an FAI.

The Community Safety Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said the proposals in the Bill would help modernise the FAI system and offer a "hugely important step" in providing answers for families.

He said: "The courage and strength Mr and Mrs Beveridge have shown throughout their quest to find out what happened to Blair is hugely admirable and my thoughts are with them as I can only imagine the pain of losing a loved one in such tragic circumstances.

"Mr and Mrs Beveridge's support is particularly brave as they know the legislation will not be retrospective and there can be no FAI into Blair's death.

"While the decision on whether to hold a Fatal Accident Inquiry rests with the Lord Advocate, our Bill means that other families might not have to go through the same agonising struggle for answers regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of their child."

The Bill also includes provisions to allow FAIs to be re-opened if new evidence emerges. If it were substantial evidence, a completely new FAI could be held.

And for the first time it ensures that those to whom sheriffs make recommendations at the end of an inquiry must tell the court what steps have been taken - or explain why compliance was not possible.

A number of Lord Cullen's recommendations have already been addressed through the formation of the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Since 2012 families of UK service personnel killed on active service abroad have been able to opt for an FAI to be held, rather than travel to England for a coroner's inquest.

But BBC Scotland understands the only family to whom that has applied declined the offer.

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