A FATAL accident inquiry heard on Friday that the life of an Ayr Taxi driver could have been saved if he had been found sooner.

New evidence was uncovered into the death of James Irvine who suffered a heart attack and drowned when his car entered the water at Ayr Harbour Quayside. 

Lack of signage and a ‘no entry’ sign near the taxi’s pick-up point at the harbour port could have been key factors that decided James Irvine’s fate when the tragedy took place in the early hours of December 23, 2014.

As two of the three CCTV cameras in the area had been broken by adverse weather conditions, it has been hard to determine what really happened.

Mr Irvine, a self-employed taxi driver, who had a phobia of water, shared a Skoda with his taxi partner Graham Frew and was working for Streamline Taxis that night.

He had been asked over the radio to pick up Graeme Love, who runs the Ayr Harbour Tug Company and escort him from the pilot house at Ayr Harbour to Troon Harbour between 10.25pm and 10.30pm on December 22, 2014.

Mr Irvine had previously picked up a passenger from the harbour in October 2014 and should have known his way around the dock.

Graeme Love had received a text message that night informing him that his transport was on its way and assumed it had arrived when he had notification that a vehicle was at the barrier to the port and opened it.

But when Mr Irvine’s failed to appear, Mr Love called Streamline at 12.25am on December, 23, 2014 who tried and failed to get in touch with their driver, leaving a voicemail, which remained unanswered.

The company sent another taxi who picked up Mr Love and left the dock by which stage Mr Irvine was already been in the water.

Mr Irvine’s body was recovered on December 26, 2014 at 1.50pm. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

New information was submitted to the fatal accident inquiry of Mr Irvine’s death at Ayr Sheriff Court on Friday, April 1 which heard that had he been found sooner his life could have been saved.

The inquiry heard since that night lighting checks have been carried out at the venue every three metres, which is supposed to have the best lighting system according to lorry drivers.

There is no explanation why 70 metres before the pilot house, Mr Irvine took a sharp right and drove between two heave pieces of machinery approximately two car widths away from each other and drove off the quay.

Streamline now insist their drivers pick up fares at the barrier of the port.

A number of possible scenarios into what happened have been presented to Sheriff Leslie with a total of 15 witnesses appearing at previous hearings earlier in the year.

Stormy weather conditions meant high water levels and rough and choppy seas with white tops.

Strong westerly winds were blowing but employees at the harbour insist that lighting and visibility was good and they have never had any problems like this with other vehicles.

There have been no previous incidents of vehicles driving over the harbour edge for at least 30 years.

The court heard from Miss Aria that a glare in the canteen window could have been mistaken by Mr Irvine to be the pilot’s house which could have resulted in him taking a wrong turn.

But this was contradicted by a statement from Paul Rigg, an engineer whose expertise is lighting at the port, who said lighting at the canteen was only 10 volts.

It is not meant to look like someone is there but to show someone in the building where the main light switch is.

It was determined that Mr Irvine, who had a history of high blood pressure, was discovered by divers still wearing his seatbelt.

The driver’s window was broken and his limbs indicated a struggle but no bruises were found on his body.

Miss Aria pointed out that the victim was relatively healthy and did not suffer any other health problems.

Mr Irvine’s taxi partner, Graham Frew, whom he shared a cab with was also a self-employed taxi driver said he did not know Mr Irvine very well but had spoken to him that night and said he sounded fine.

The court also heard that once entering the port, James Irvine failed to slow down before and after an on-site speed bump. During the night lorry drivers and other taxis entered the port.

Taxi controller, Collin Dempsy, who has worked for Streamline for 12 years had previously been called as a witness.

He said that he had met Mr Irvine a few times who knew his way around the port as he had collected a fare there in October 2014.

If he had got lost, Mr Irvine could have contacted Mr Dempsy. 

James Irvine’s GP, Thomas Hunter, said that the deceased had suffered an alcohol problem but by October 2014 he was drinking moderately. There was nothing to indicate he had a mental health problem.

Dr Hunter also said previously that was unlikely Mr Irvine suffered a heart attack before he entered the water. If he had it was more likely for Mr Irvine to stop the car than lose control altogether.

Poor signage and road markings could have made it difficult for Mr Irvine to navigate around the port. There are two routes he could have taken, one marked ‘no entry’.

It was suggested that the sea was too rough to mistake for road and better lighting and signage would not have had any impact.

After listening to the submissions, Sheriff Leslie said: “I would like to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

“Every stone has been unturned and I want to make sure something like this does not happen again.

“I will make my determination in accordance with this. I want to say thank you to the family for you calm approach as sometimes they can be emotional.”
Sheriff Leslie will decide the outcome of the FAI but has not given a specific time period.