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Clutha Helicopter Crash: Investigation process explained

The Crown Office has published details of the investigation process which will follow the Clutha Helicopter crash in Glasgow. Our immediate thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives and the other victims of the incident at this difficult time. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) have responsibility for leading the investigation into any sudden and unexplained deaths in Scotland and deciding whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry should be held.


Investigation into the Incident Involving a Police Helicopter on 29 November 2013.

This information sheet explains what has happened so far in respect of the investigation of this fatal incident and outlines further expected steps and the roles of all the investigating authorities involved in looking at what caused the crash to happen.

It also confirms how information will be provided to those affected by the incident.

This document will be updated as further information regarding the COPFS investigation becomes available.

The helicopter crash at the Clutha Bar, Glasgow occurred at around 10.25pm on 29th November 2013. Ten people were killed, three who had been in the helicopter and seven in the bar.

The police, fire and ambulance services all responded immediately. They take first responsibility for attending at the scene and rescuing and recovering those affected.

The helicopter involved in the incident was removed to Farnborough on 3rd December 2013 for detailed examination.

Role of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) have responsibility for leading the investigation into any sudden and unexplained deaths in Scotland and deciding whether there is evidence available that means criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry should be held.

Members of COPFS were also at the scene to assist the police in the decision making around the recovery of fatalities to ensure that identification of those who died and the exact cause of death was made available as quickly as possible to bereaved relatives and also to ensure that all evidence necessary to help identify what caused the tragedy is preserved.

The COPFS Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU) has specialised staff to deal with such difficult, complex and harrowing investigations.

Family Liaison

The Police make contact with the families of those who have died through Family Liaison Officers. These are specially trained officers who act as a point of contact for the families to make sure that they understand the steps that are being taken to recover their loved one and what steps are likely then to follow in the investigation.

After the funerals of a victim has taken place, responsibility for liaising with their family passes to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. (COPFS)  Specialist staff from the COPFS Victim Information and Advice (VIA) Team then work with families throughout all the stages of investigation and any criminal or Fatal Accident Inquiry court proceedings that are raised by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

A dedicated team from COPFS will be put in place for the families of victims who died as a result of this incident on 29 November 2013. If you are a family member who has suffered bereavement in this incident and would like further information then please contact

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AAIB investigation

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is responsible for the technical investigation into any incident involving a helicopter or other aircraft. They investigate what happened, and look to make recommendations as to the safety of aircraft. They do not consider criminal proceedings or apportion blame as to what caused the incident.

The purpose of the AAIB investigation is

“To improve aviation safety by determining the causes of air accidents and serious incidents making safety recommendations intended to prevent recurrence. It is not to apportion liability”

On 9th December, the AAIB published a Special Bulletin on the investigation into the incident, including their preliminary findings and which provides initial information, that bulletin is available on the  AAIB website.

After a full investigation, which can take a significant length of time, the AAIB will publish a report into the causes of the crash. It is the AAIB investigation which takes precedence over other types of investigation because of the need to make sure that other similar aircraft are safe and that any steps necessary to avoid a similar accident taking place are established and followed across the industry as soon as possible.

Any decision by COPFS as to whether there is sufficient evidence to raise criminal or Fatal Accident Inquiry proceedings is taken after AAIB complete their investigation to ensure that their safety recommendations are issued as quickly as possible. A decision as to the nature of the subsequent inquiry which will follow will be taken by the Crown Office as soon as possible after the conclusion of the AAIB investigation.

Civil Aviation Authority and Police Investigations

After the AAIB have investigated the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will work with the Police to investigate the incident.

The CAA are the enforcing authority for aviation related offences.

The Police will take statements and gather documents so that there is evidence which can be used in a court if required and report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

COPFS have a dedicated and specialised Procurator Fiscal who leads in investigations in relation to incidents involving aircraft. 

Investigative Strategy Group

In order to direct the investigation into the incident involving a police helicopter in Glasgow on 29 November 2013, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service(COPFS) has established an Investigative Strategy Group.

The group will be chaired by COPFS and will have representation from Police Scotland. As part of ongoing review of the inquiry the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) will be part of the Investigative Strategy Group.

The Lord Advocate has legal responsibility to investigate all sudden or unexplained deaths in Scotland.

Police Scotland will continue to lead the investigation under the direction and superintendence of COPFS. Should allegations of impropriety or criminality on the part of the police come to light, those allegations will be investigated by PIRC. The circumstances will be kept under review.

For more information on PIRC see http://pirc.scotland.gov.uk/
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Throughout the Investigation

COPFS recognise that the level and detail of investigation required in an incident like this necessarily take time. COPFS will ensure that the nearest relatives of the deceased are kept updated regularly as to progress of the investigation.

Nearest relatives will be asked what their preferred method of communication is. The communication can be via a dedicated electronic mail address, normal post, by phone, or in person.

Decisions

Only once the detailed and thorough investigations have been completed, will COPFS be in a position to make decisions as to whether any criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry may be appropriate in the circumstances.  Any decision taken about such proceedings as a result of this incident will be taken by experienced Crown Counsel senior lawyers who act on behalf of the Lord Advocate.

Criminal Proceedings.

Before Criminal proceedings can be commenced there requires to be sufficient admissible evidence that a crime has been committed. If Crown Counsel decide that there are to be criminal proceedings in relation to the incident then these would normally take place before any Fatal Accident Inquiry. If criminal proceedings are being contemplated by COPFS then the nearest relatives of the deceased will be informed first and further information provided around the court process and timing.

Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI)

A Fatal Accident Inquiry is a public hearing held under Scots Law to investigate the circumstances of a death or deaths in Scotland. Unlike a criminal trial or that of a civil case, the purpose of the Inquiry is to determine the cause of death or deaths and to establish if the death could have been prevented and to consider whether any action is needed to protect the public from danger in the future. It is not the purpose of an FAI to apportion blame or to find someone responsible for the death.

If a Fatal Accident Inquiries are being contemplated by COPFS then the nearest relatives of the deceased will be informed first and further information provided around the court process and timing. The nearest relative’s views will be taken into account in making the decision as to a whether a fatal accident inquiry will be held.

COPFS are responsible for preparing for an FAI and will present evidence at the inquiry. The Inquiry is normally held in a court room. COPFS will carry out these duties in the public interest and independently of any government department.

Section 1(2) of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976 provides that although a death as a result of an accident in the course of employment requires a FAI, this otherwise mandatory provision can be waived by the Lord Advocate if criminal proceedings have been concluded against any person in respect of the death or any accident from which the death resulted, and the Lord Advocate is satisfied that the circumstances of the death have been sufficiently established in the course of such proceedings.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry would normally only take place following consideration of whether any criminal proceedings in relation to the death in the course of employment are appropriate. It would not generally be in the public interest to hold a Fatal Accident Inquiry before all such criminal investigations are complete and carefully considered by Crown Counsel, senior lawyers at Crown Office. Therefore, if a death occurs in the course of employment there will be criminal proceedings or an FAI, or in some cases both.

Contact

For General Enquiries in relation to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service please contact

E-Mail

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Telephone

From a landline, you can phone 0844 561 3000
From a mobile, you can phone 01389 739 557

Calls can be made through RNID Typetalk. Please prefix our telephone number with 18001
Deaf sign language users should text on 07825 280346, specifying if you would prefer your reply by sms, text or email

LAST UPDATED 13 DECEMBER 2013