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Fatal Accident Inquiries - Deaths of Servicemen

8 April 2013

Freedom of Information Request: Fatal Accident Inquiries - Deaths of Servicemen

Thank you for your request dated 5 March 2013 under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) in which you requested "the names and ages of servicemen and ex-servicemen of the UK Armed Forces whose deaths occurred in 2012 and have been the subject of a Fatal Accident Inquiry under your jurisdiction. Could you please include all opened, pending and closed Fatal Accident Inquiries".

I also note that you are particularly interested in those deaths that are recorded as suicide or suspected suicide.

It may be of assistance if I explain how the system of deaths investigation operates in Scotland, as there are significant differences between our system and that of the Coroners in England and Wales.

When any death is reported by the Police, NHS or other agency the death maybe one in which we are prepared to accept the cause of death being proposed by the relevant Doctor or we may proceed to carry out an investigation. So far as suicides or suspected suicides are concerned these are investigated usually by means of a post mortem examination and further investigations to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the death.

The Coroner in England and Wales often opens an inquiry then carries out an investigation before subsequently reopening the inquiry and ultimately providing a determination. In Scotland the investigation is conducted in private by the Procurator Fiscal. In appropriate cases, a Fatal Accident Inquiry is then held before a Sheriff. Accordingly it will not be the position that there will be a Fatal Accident Inquiry in every case.

Fatal Accident Inquiries in Scotland are held in terms of the Fatal Accident and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976. There are two classes of inquiry in terms of the Act, mandatory inquiries in terms of Section 1 (1) (a) of the Act which apply to deaths which have either resulted from an accident occurring while the person was in the course of his or her employment or where a person was at the time of their death in legal custody.

Any other inquiry is a discretionary inquiry in terms of Section 1 (1) (b) of the Act. Such an inquiry is held where it appears to the Lord Advocate that the death has occurred in circumstances such as give rise to serious public concern.

I should advise that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's Case Management Database is a live, operating database. It is designed to meet the department's business needs in relation to the processing of deaths investigations and the information within it is structured accordingly. The database holds only operational data needed for business purposes and does not record the occupation or former occupation of an individual whose death is reported to us.

I note that your request relates to deaths occurring in 2012.

The only way of ascertaining whether the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service holds information about the deaths of servicemen or ex servicemen, which occurred in 2013 would be to manually examine the content of every death report in 2012. In terms of the fees regulations under FOISA, if the costs of meeting request are estimated to exceed £600 public authorities are not required to comply with the request. We have estimated the cost of providing this information which you have requested would exceed the threshold given that we receive circa 13,000 death reports per annum.

I am aware that we have one case currently under investigation which concerns the deaths of three RAF airmen following a mid air collision involving two RAF Tornado aircraft which occurred in 2012. That case is still under investigation and no decision regarding a Fatal Accident Inquiry has been taken. There is no suggestion that that case is suicidal.