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Today, 21st October 2021, marks fifty years since the Clarkston Gas explosion that led to the tragic loss of 22 people and injury to more than 100 others. This represented the largest loss of life since the end of World War Two. The force of the blast, likened to a 300lb bomb, left 10 shops and an overhead car park decimated. It is believed that a pocket of gas formed below the Clarkston Toll shops following the cracking of a gas pipe laid by the Scottish Gas Board, which eventually exploded.

In the aftermath of the accident a Fatal Accident Inquiry (“FAI”) was held and lasted over 19 days, which at the time was the longest FAI ever conducted in Scotland. The purpose of an FAI is to fact find and provide answers into how an accident occurred, so that lessons may be learned in order to avoid similar circumstances.

The FAI confirmed that the pipe fractured six years after its installation, unbeknownst to the Scottish Gas Board. The gas had been able to leak from the pipe through an earth embankment, which had been installed as a cheaper alternative to a concrete retaining wall during the design and construction phase of the Clarkston shops[1]. Despite these findings in fact, the FAI found that “the accident could not be attributed to the fault or negligence of any person or persons”[2].

This was an outcome that did not sit well with those having lost loved ones. Reference is made to reports of a gaseous smell being noted around Clarkston toll in the week prior to the explosion. The Scottish Gas Board attended to the site but concluded that there was no strong indication of gas being present. On the morning of the explosion, the Scottish Gas Board had given the all-clear and left the site. No source for the smell of gas was identified by the Scottish Gas Board. The standards of health and safety between 1971 and 2021 are of course disparate, however the indication of a gaseous smell ought to involve a comprehensive investigation with a fundamentally clear conclusion.

There was criticism of the Fatal Accident Inquiry being held in February 1972, only four months on from the accident. Presently, it is not uncommon for a Fatal Accident Inquiry to be held many years after the accident. Whilst the elongated wait for an FAI can be criticised, in some instances this is to allow a thorough investigation to take place. Given the nature and extent of the explosion of the Clarkston Toll a period of four months would be wholly insufficient. The main thrust of a fatal accident inquiry is to identify the lessons that need to be learned. Without anxious scrutiny of the facts leading to devastating disasters, such as the Clarkston explosion, we will fail to ensure they never occur again.

A motion has been raised this week in Westminster by the local Member of Parliament for East Renfrewshire expressing concern that the cause of the explosion has never fully been identified and that no one was held responsible for the tragedy[3].

Blog by Conor Kenny, Solicitor




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