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Reflections on Finnich Glen rescues

Tuesday 8th June 2021, 3:23pm

Reassurance has been given to the outdoor community, after two people were charged by Police Scotland with culpable and reckless conduct following their rescue from a gorge by Lomond Mountain Rescue Team.

The incident, arising after the men got into difficulty at the popular beauty spot of Finnich Glen in Stirlingshire at the end of April, caused expressions of concern by some from the outdoor community, with fears that people could be put off calling 999 if they needed help in the hills.

Since then, Mountaineering Scotland and Ramblers Scotland have engaged with Police Scotland and Scottish Mountain Rescue to seek clarity about the incident.

Police Scotland has confirmed that it is extremely unusual for this charge to be libelled in these circumstances. It has been emphasised that the key elements are deliberate conduct that is clearly reckless and a significant risk, alongside the attitudes and behaviours displayed by those involved. 

We had seen this culpable and reckless behaviour charge used in two high profile incidents during lockdown – one near Crianlarich and the other on Ben Lomond – where walkers had got into difficulty and required rescue assistance.

While in both those cases the walkers had clearly breached the travel guidance, we know that there was no breach of Coronavirus restrictions in the rescue from Finnich Glen. The team leader at Lomond MRT has confirmed that rescues from the gorge have become a regular shout for their volunteers. Over the 12 months there have been eight mountain rescue call-outs to the glen, which has been made famous by the TV show Outlander and has become a magnet for visitors anxious for the ubiquitous selfie shot. This has caused a real headache for the Council and emergency services in managing the situation and longer terms plans have been approved to develop the site as a tourist attraction. 

We can take some reassurance that only one of the eight call-outs has resulted in the use of the charge of culpable and reckless conduct. Statistics released from Scottish Mountain Rescue confirmed the total number of incidents in 2020 was 497 of which 289 were mountaineering related and two resulted in this charge.

In our communications we raised concerns particularly about the way the reporting of this incident suggested that the charge was being applied as a result of someone getting into trouble and requiring rescue assistance. This has much wider and more concerning implications in terms of our right of responsible access.

We focused on stressing the need to separate out the use of the charge from the need for a rescue, and there was agreement that the last thing anyone wants is for people to get into serious difficulty and not to call for assistance for fear of being charged and ending up with a criminal record.

Police Scotland is acutely aware, and recognises, that many outdoor activities involve an element of risk and anyone needing emergency assistance should not be concerned about calling for help. The service will avoid any suggestion that people would be charged simply for being out and needing help.

We will continue to monitor this issue and other access matters which would give us cause for concern, particularly as the weather improves and we see the same interest in the outdoors as we did last summer. We have been encouraged by Police Scotland’s willingness to work with us directly and also with the National Access Forum and the members of the Scottish Outdoor Recreation Alliance, of which Mountaineering Scotland is one. This improved collaboration and communication can only be a good thing as we work together to try and ensure people continue to enjoy the outdoors in a safe and responsible way.

Scottish Mountain Rescue also stressed that people should not be put off calling for help if needed. Kev Mitchell, SMR vice chair, said: “If you are lost or injured and can’t get off the hill, call 999 and ask for Police and Mountain Rescue. You will be helped. We are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Photo courtesy of Lomond MRT