Rally victims 'hit like skittles'

Blackpool Citizen: Floral tributes near the scene at Little Swinton, near Coldstream, where three people were killed after a car lost control at the Jim Clark Rally in the Scottish Borders yesterday. Floral tributes near the scene at Little Swinton, near Coldstream, where three people were killed after a car lost control at the Jim Clark Rally in the Scottish Borders yesterday.

An eyewitness to a rally car crash that killed three spectators said the vehicle ploughed into the crowd like a ''bowling ball hitting skittles''.

The two men and one woman were killed in what was the second of two crashes during the Jim Clark Rally in the Scottish Borders on Saturday afternoon.

They were identified by Police Scotland as Iain John Provan, 64, and Elizabeth Allan, 63, from Barrhead, near Glasgow, and 71-year-old John Leonard Stern, known as Len, from Bearsden, also near Glasgow.

Two other injured men, both 61, remained in hospital - one in a stable condition and one in a critical but stable condition in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

The fatal accident took place at about 4pm at Little Swinton, near Coldstream.

Colin Gracey has watched the rally for years from the same spot close to where the crashed happened.

The 46-year-old teacher, who lives in nearby Swinton, was there with his family, including three children, and described the incident as "traumatic".

He said: "We went down there, as we've been doing for about 17 years, to the same place we watch it from just up from the bridge.

"I think it was the seventh car coming through and it just veered very sharply after taking the bridge and it went right into the field hitting the people who were stood there. It was shocking.

"I was there with my family, my three children, and we go to the same place every year and always watch it from there. It was very traumatic.

"It was like a bowling ball hitting skittles.

"It was awful, absolutely awful."

Officers from Police Scotland worked through the day at the site. Tents were erected and forensic specialists were seen filming the area.

A cordon was in place and flowers were left beside a tree in tribute to those who died.

Mr Gracey said a safety car passed through the area before the rally to tell people to stand at a safe distance.

"A marshall car came through before the stage started and told people to move away from the area. I think people moved but came back," he said.

"There were at least a dozen people standing there and when it happened I thought 'my god'.

"It was horrendous, I've never seen anything like it in my life.

"The tape marking the course was next to the hedge where normally the tape is 30 metres either side of the road into the field and effectively no one is allowed down there unless you're a steward.

"We wouldn't even stand in the field. We always go a bit further up the road which is safer."

The three-day rally, which was due to finish today, was immediately abandoned after the fatal crash.

Mr Gracey said there was stunned silence among the crowd but emergency services were quickly on the scene.

"The road sits slightly higher up so we couldn't see all the people, it was like slow motion, it was unbelievable.

"There was a silence initially and then the ambulance for the rally came and then 10 minutes after that the emergency services started to arrive and they took over."

About 250 competitors had been taking part in the event, which is said to be one of the largest in the UK, with thousands of spectators watching the action.

Two hours before the fatal crash another car in the rally left the road and hit five people, one woman and four men, near Crosshall Farm on the Eccles stage of the competition.

Three of the men were taken to Borders General Hospital but one was then moved to an intensive care unit in Edinburgh. The remaining two spectators were treated for minor injuries.

Superintendent Phil O'Kane, of Police Scotland, said he thought the rally organising committee ''would have considered it was safe to move on to the next rally stage'' after the first accident.

"Although safety barriers are put in place there are not stewarding positions along the whole route," he said.

''It's a high energy and a high adrenaline sport and people want to take the best positions.''

In a statement, the organisers of the Jim Clark Rally offered their ''heartfelt condolences and sympathy'' to all those affected by the ''tragic events''.

They added: ''Our thoughts are especially with those who have lost family members and to the families of the injured spectators.

''All members of the organising team are in shock and are co-operating fully with Police Scotland to establish the facts.''

The rally is named after Scottish Formula One driver Jim Clark, who grew up in the area and was killed in a motor racing accident in Hockenheim, Germany, in 1968.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond spoke of the ''desperately sad and difficult news from the Borders of the tragic circumstances that have occurred at the Jim Clark Rally''.

He added: ''My thoughts are with all of those involved and the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.''

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, the top prosecutor, will receive a briefing from police in Kelso tomorrow.

Mr MacAskill is also expected to make a statement in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

He said: " This incident will have come as a tremendous shock to the local community and wider motoring family.

"All across Scotland people are sharing the sadness of this tragic event and stand ready to support the local community.

"Above all, our thoughts are with the family and friends of those affected."

Local councillor Michael Cook said: "This is an event which has been taking place here for many, many years. It's been going without incident for over 40 years now and to have this happen has really rocked the community. It's a black day, there is no getting away from that fact."

On the future of the rally, he said: "I think its far too easy to speculate, really what we need to do today is reflect on what's happened and this is a tragedy for families and loved ones impacted."

Flowers were left in Swinton village green. One bunch has a card which reads: "The sport that we all love is very cruel at times.

"Deepest sympathy for all concerned. With love, car 180."

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