Event’s future looks bleak after MSA blow

Floral tributes on Swinton village green following the death of three spectators during the Jim Clark Rally
Floral tributes on Swinton village green following the death of three spectators during the Jim Clark Rally

There will be no Jim Clark Memorial Rally in 2017 and the very future of the popular motorsport event is now in serious jeopardy.

In the week that Scottish Borders Council had given hope that a decision could be made within the next fortnight, these hopes were dashed by the sport’s own ruling body, which stated that its insurers believed it inappropriate to run the event until the outcome of the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), launched by Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, into the deaths of three people at the rally in 2014 and another at the Snowman Rally in Inverness in 2013.

In an email earlier this week to Jim Clark Rally (JCR) chairman Dan Wright, the chief executive of the Motor Sports Association (MSA), Rob Jones, stated: “Following extensive consultation with our insurance brokers and our insurers, I am able to confirm the position of the MSA regarding any proposal for the JCR to be run in 2017. It would not be appropriate for MSA to issue a permit for the JCR until the FAI has been completed and the sheriff has issued his findings.”

Given this decision, a long tradition of motor sports events in Berwickshire, which launched the careers of Jim Clark and Sir Jackie Stewart, Andrew Cowan and Louise Aitken Walker MBE, and which stretch back to motor racing just after the second World War at Charterhall and Winfield, is at risk of coming to an end.

The rally organisers say they are at a loss to understand the decision.

Mr Wright said: “In any other workplace or sporting endeavour, routine carries on while FAIs are under way, so we don’t understand the insurer’s reasoning behind this decision. They may well have consulted extensively with their insurance partners, but the rally organisers were not consulted.”

In other fields where FAIs have taken place, whether in the workplace or in other sports, there has been no suspension of activity.

In such cases, new procedures and practices have been implemented following such accidents to allow it to carry on.

That was also the case following the tragedy on the Jim Clark Rally in 2014, as new rules have been introduced nationwide, limiting the actions of media personnel attending rallies and also regulating those who can apply for media accreditation.

A further ruling has been made advising media personnel against taking family members and friends with them when they attend events on work-related duties.

Much work has also been done in creating improved spectator facilities at all rally events.

Rally manager, Russel Blood, added: “We understand that the inquest process under English law differs from Fatal Accident Inquiries under Scots Law, so to take this decision without wider consultation, is not what should be expected from a sport’s UK national governing body.

“This outcome has thoroughly demoralised the whole team behind the running of this major event.”

Local MSP John Lamont, who has been a long-time supporter of bringing the rally back, said: “The Jim Clark Rally has been a major contributor to the Borders economy and the loss of the event for yet another year is a big blow to the organisers, local businesses and motorsport enthusiasts.

“With the MSA now saying the rally can’t take place while the Fatal Accident Inquiry is ongoing, there is a real risk the event will be lost forever.

“FAIs are notoriously slow processes and if this decision stands, there is little chance that the rally will take place in the next few years, meaning its slot in the motor sports calendar may be lost.

“The organisers rightly feel that not enough has been done to try to save this important sporting event. When the FAI was announced, I asked the Crown Office to make it clear that the holding of an FAI did not in itself prevent the rally taking place.

“That did not happen and the future of the event has now been put in jeopardy. I urge the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Government to now make it clear that there are no legal reasons why the rally cannot continue in an attempt to change the decision of the MSA.”

It is the rally organising team’s fervent hope that rallying can return to the Berwickshire roads in 2018 to continue a sporting tradition which the Jim Clark Rally instigated in 1970 to commemorate the achievements of the Borders farmer, rally driver and world champion racing driver.

Last month, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC stated that a single fatal accident inquiry (FAI) is to be held into the deaths of Joy Robson – who died after being hit by a competing car in the Snowman Rally in Inverness in February 2013 – and the three people Iain Provan, Elizabeth Allan and Len Stern – who lost their lives in a similar incident in the Jim Clark Rally in May 2014.

The inquiry will be held in the Lothian and Borders area.

While the Crown Office has confirmed no criminal proceedings will be brought in relation to either event, this could be reconsidered if additional evidence comes to light during the FAI.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after organisers slammed the “delay” by the Crown Office in publishing its report into the crash in 2014.