Iain Livingstone said he “apologises unreservedly” to the families of Lamara Bell, 25, and her partner John Yuill, 28, who died in the crash and has offered to meet with them if “the families agree to do so”.
We reported how Police Scotland admitted health and safety failings led to the death of Ms Bell after her car lay undiscovered down the embankment on the M9 near Bannockburn – with officers taking three days to arrive at the scene after the accident was reported.
When police did arrive at the car, they found Mr Yuill already dead and Ms Bell seriously injured.
The young mother went on to pass away in hospital a short time later.
At the High Court in Edinburgh today, the force pled guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety Act and admitted its failings over the case had “materially contributed” to Ms Bell’s death. They were fined £100,000.
The tragic incident took place in July 2015 when the Falkirk couple were returning from a camping trip in Perthshire.
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Despite a member of the public calling police, it was not logged on systems and officers only arrived at the scene after a similar call was made three days later.
Following the events in court today, Chief Constable Livingstone released a statement of apology.
He also insisted that “lessons have been learned and improvements made”.
He said: “Lamara Bell and John Yuill’s deaths were a tragedy and my thoughts today are with their children, families and friends.
“The preservation of life and helping people who are in crisis go to the heart of our duty to keep people safe.
“Police Scotland failed Lamara and John in that duty, and for that I am sorry.
“On behalf of policing in Scotland, I apologise unreservedly to their families.
“And if the families agree to do so, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with them, when they are ready, to personally convey my apology.”
He continued: “When I took up the Office of Chief Constable I gave a commitment that the Police Service of Scotland would co-operate fully with the Crown Office investigation into this tragedy.
“Police Scotland has fully participated with the inspections, investigations and enquiries established since July 2015 to identify what went wrong and safeguard against those failings being repeated in the future.
“None of those investigations or enquiries change what happened or provide any consolation to the families involved, but I do offer an assurance that lessons have been learned and improvements made.
“The call handling system in place in 2015 exposed the public to an unacceptable risk and led to tragedy.
“People are entitled to expect help when their police service tells them they will respond.
“Our failure in July 2015 undoubtedly weakened the relationship of trust that exists in Scotland between policing and the communities we serve.
“Since that time, we have made changes to our approach which have resulted in significant improvements to reduce and mitigate risks associated with call handling and across policing.”
Mr Livingstone also said: “As Chief Constable, I undertake that Police Scotland will continue to fully co-operate with any other inquiries which may take place.
“I am personally committed to leading the organisation through further change and improvement to lessen the possibility of such a dreadful event ever happening again.
“I reiterate my personal condolences to the families of Lamara Bell and John Yuill. I am sorry for Police Scotland’s failure to keep them safe and the tragic consequences of that failure.”
In court, Judge Lord Beckett said no sentence would likely make up for the tragedy and said while a private company likely would have faced a fine running into the millions, Police Scotland was a public body funded by the taxpayer.
Yesterday Lamara’s mum, Diane Bell, said: “Finally, we can say – Lamara has justice.
“It has taken a long time for this conviction to be secured but it is a huge relief that Police Scotland has finally admitted being at fault for Lamara’s death. I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us since 2015.
“Our family and friends, the local community, our legal team and also the media whose spotlight helped make sure the failures that led to Lamara’s death could not be swept under the rug.”