AN East Lancashire rally driver competing at an event where three spectators were killed at the weekend has described the incident as ‘devastating’.
Neil Simpson, 41, from Clitheroe, was supposed to be driving one of the next cars through the Little Swinton stage of the Jim Clark Rally, in the Scottish Borders, where the accident happened.
A woman and two men were pronounced dead at the scene, while another man was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in a critical condition, after the car left the road and ended up in a field.
The crash came just hours after another car had left the road and struck five people – one woman and four men – on a previous stage.
Neil, dealer principal of Simpsons Skoda Colne and Preston, was competing in the event in a Skoda.
He said: “It was absolutely dreadful news, and devastating for the families and everyone involved in the sport.
“The place where the accident happened is well-known as being tricky, and is a popular spot for spectators to watch.
“We’d been through the same stage in the morning and we took it carefully.
“We were supposed to be one of the next cars to go through the stages and we were held at the section immediately beforehand.
“It was obvious from the amount of emergency services arriving that it was serious.
“After half an hour we were sent back to the rally headquarters in Kelso, where the news filtered through. Everyone there was in a state of shock. We’ve done the Jim Clark Rally three time and it has an exemplary safety record, it is very well marshalled and the organisers couldn’t do more.
“But unless you have a marshal every 200 yards on the entire route, you can’t make it completely risk-free, and spectators have to use their common sense.”
Chris Ellison, of Blackburn, a rally photographer who has worked all over the world during his 40 year career, was covering the event, which attracts thousands of spectators, including dozens from East Lancashire.
He said: “I had driven down the stage beforehand. The place in question is well-known as a vicious jump that can cause problems. We heard the news on the radio, and once it came through the rally was being cancelled, everyone knew how serious it was. It’s an appalling tragedy, and our sympathies are with all the families involved. I went down to the bridge yesterday morning to pay my respects and lay some flowers.”
Police Superintendent Phil O'Kane, who is investigating the crash, said responsibility for safety rested with the rally's organising committee.
However he added: “But I do know it is well stewarded. Safety is a very big consideration in the planning of it.”
The people who died were Iain John Provan, 64, Elizabeth Allan, 63, and 71-year-old John Leonard Stern, all from near Glasgow.