Rules criticised after Ayrshire mine shaft death

Image caption, Ms Hume fell down the shaft in July 2008 as she made her way home

Regulations which delayed the rescue of a woman who died after falling down an Ayrshire mine shaft were "morally indefensible", a fire officer has said.

John Bowman, 51, told a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) he had heated exchanges with senior officers over the rules.

He was giving evidence into a reopened inquiry into the death of 44-year-old Alison Hume, who fell down a 40ft mineshaft in Galston in 2008.

She lay trapped for six hours and later died in hospital.

Ms Hume, a solicitor who worked with the Renfrewshire legal firm McCusker McElroy and Co, fell down the disused mineshaft while taking a shortcut home.

The inquiry earlier heard how she lay for six hours at the bottom of the hole after health and safety rules stopped firefighters from rescuing her.

The mother-of-two later suffered a heart attack as she was being brought to the surface.

Dr David Chung, from Crosshouse hospital's casualty department, said Ms Hume died from a combination of hypothermia and chest injury but that these were survivable.

Late witness

A fatal accident inquiry at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court was adjourned at the end of March after Sheriff Desmond Leslie finished hearing evidence.

Mr Bowman, a fire officer for almost 32 years, later wrote to Sheriff Leslie asking to give evidence as a late witness after being encouraged by serving firefighters and his family.

The Crown appealed successfully to have the inquiry reopened after Strathclyde Fire and Rescue had opposed the move.

On Monday, Mr Bowman told the inquiry he had been tasked with drafting instructions for firefighters to implement new rules about safe working at height.

This related to the introduction of a new harness for rescuing casualties who had fallen which replaced older line rescue gear.

Mr Bowman, from Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, said it was a "bolt out of the blue" when he was told by area commander Charles McGrattan that the new harness was not to be used on the public.

He said: "What I was told was that in negotiations between the Fire Brigades Union and management it was decided to reclassify the safe working at height pack as technical line rescue."

He said a small number of firefighters trained in "ancillary" operations such as water rescues and incidents at sea were already paid extra for those duties.

"The implications were that the safe working at height training would be universal so everyone would be entitled to the payment," Mr Bowman said.

He told the inquiry his immediate reaction was to say: "You might as well take all that nice, shiny equipment and throw it in the bin."

'No consultation'

Mr Bowman went on: "Right from the outset the safe working at height pack was designed to be used by everyone, so it pulled the rug out to say it was now a technical rescue."

Depute fiscal Nancy Beresford, for the Crown, asked Mr Bowman whether financial reasons had played a part and if he had been consulted.

Mr Bowman replied: "It was a fait accompli. To my knowledge nobody with expertise in Strathclyde Fire and Rescue was consulted in that decision.

"Watch commanders were very far down the feeding chain. There was no consultation."

Image caption, Ms Hume fell 40ft into the mineshaft in Galston, Ayrshire

Mr Bowman said Mr McGrattan told him to write a memo ordering firefighters to use the new harness only on other crew members but not the public.

Strathclyde Police mountain rescue team and Trossachs mountain rescue were to be called upon for their expertise instead.

However, the neighbouring Lothian and Borders brigade, which had line rescue facilities, was not to be used.

Mr Bowman said: "I was given no explanation and I was angry. To me the natural agency to contact would be another fire and rescue service.

"It was just a disaster waiting to happen. It wasn't a case of if, it was when it would happen.

"All you had to do was imagine what would happen after the memo went out. It wasn't difficult to imagine."

Mr Bowman, who retired last year after 32 years service, was contacted by worried colleagues after the memo went out.

Economic reasons

He told them: "If you have the training and ability to do it, then carry on and effect the rescue before someone turns up to stop you. Strictly unofficially, of course."

Mr Bowman told the inquiry: "It absolutely stank. I managed to put in a paragraph saying you could stabilise the casualty but you couldn't bring them back up again."

Gregor Forbes, solicitor for Ms Hume's family, asked Mr Bowman whether the memo, about not rescuing non-fire service personnel, was for economic reasons.

He replied: "Yes sir. It was the only explanation I was given."

Sheriff Leslie praised Mr Bowman for coming forward, saying: "It takes some courage to put your head above the parapet."

The inquiry was adjourned until a later date to allow Mr McGrattan to give evidence.

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