Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

April 14, 2015

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Edinburgh Legionnaires’ deaths: No-one to face prosecution

No-one will be prosecuted over an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh in 2012 which killed four people, the Crown Office has announced.

A total of 92 cases were identified during the outbreak and lawyers representing 40 people affected by the outbreak said it was now “crucial” that a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) is held into the case.

Legionella bacteria are commonly found in sources of water such as rivers and lakes and can end up in artificial water supplies such as air conditioning systems, water services and cooling towers. Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water. It is not contagious and cannot be spread directly from person to person.

Following the outbreak in Edinburgh HSE and police were brought in to investigate, however the source of the bacteria was not found.

HSE said the investigation was one of the most complex it has ever undertaken, with samples taken from several sites. It is understood a cluster of cooling towers in the south-west of the city formed part of the inquiry.

Alistair McNab, HSE head of operations in Scotland, said: “This was the largest outbreak in Scotland in the last 10 years and one of the most complex HSE has investigated, involving visits to multiple sites and dutyholders including contractors and sub-contractors to check compliance with Legionella control standards.

“As HSE and public health experts made clear at the time of the outbreak the source may never be conclusively identified, based on our experience from previous outbreaks.

“This can be due to the fact that Legionnaires’ disease can have a long incubation period of up to 19 days, so by the time an outbreak is notified to HSE and other regulatory bodies and sampling carried out on water systems, the bacteria levels may have changed or the source producing bacteria may have ceased operation.

“In addition, as a precautionary measure to prevent further ill health when an outbreak is declared, companies are encouraged to shock-dose their cooling towers with chemicals, which again can prevent positively identifying the source.”

Gary Aitken, head of the health and safety division at the COPFS, said: “Following a complex and thorough investigation which involved detailed genetic analysis we can only conclude that there is no scientific basis for any prosecution related to the deaths and as a result no criminal proceedings are instructed by crown counsel.

“This was always going to be a difficult and complex investigation due to the number of potential sources in the Gorgie area but we continued on in the hope that the necessary scientific evidence would come to light. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened.

“We will now consult further with the families before making any decision in relation to a fatal accident inquiry.”

Elaine Russell, a partner at Irwin Mitchell Scotland, the firm leading the legal case on behalf of the victims, said: “We have repeatedly called for more information to be shared with the victims but have been met with a wall of silence for years.

“It is embarrassing that they have had to wait so long for the authorities to investigate and share their findings.

“Three years ago four people lost their lives and almost 100 suffered from Legionnaires ‘ disease, yet the authorities are no closer to knowing what the source of the illness was.”

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments