By Michael MacLeod
THE grieving family of a toddler who tragically fell to his death through a gap in a balcony at his mother’s office have been told there was “no reason” for the gap to be there.
Little Ben McCreath was just 21-months old when he plunged 15-feet to his death from the first floor of Edinburgh’s Princes Exchange building, where his mother Louise worked as a part-time receptionist.
Today (Friday) she and husband Ross watched on tearfully during the second day of evidence at a Fatal Accident Inquiry into their son’s death.
They heard the building’s architect Mark McPhillips admitting he made changes to the original building plans, which ultimately proved fatal for Ben.
And despite Ben’s tragic death having fallen through the 15cm gap, Mr McPhillips said he was still content with his decision to make it bigger than originally designed.
The toddler was with his mother as she visited her office at the city’s Earl Grey Street on a day off on Valentine’s Day, 2006.
The inquiry at Edinburgh Sheriff Court previously heard a written statement from her, telling how Ben “just took off” ahead of her as she was leaving.
To her horror, she saw her son falling through a 15cm opening in a glass balcony, from which he never recovered.
Court heard that just six months before the building’s completion in 2000, architect Mr McPhillips ordered the size of the gap in the balcony’s glass panels to be increased.
He was grilled over the change by Craig Turnbull, a lawyer for glazing firm Charles Henshaw, which constructed the glass balcony.
Mr Turnbull asked him: “You were content with increasing the gap.
“But how big would that have to have got for you to not to be content?”
Mr McPhillips said: “I would have said where it was at that moment.
“There are offices in Edinburgh which have bigger gaps.
“The only reason I changed the 100mm gap was to overcome something, but I just can’t remember what.
“I certainly wouldn’t have been sitting there with a 500mm gap.
“The intention was 100mm and I increased that. It still complies.”
The inquiry, before Sheriff Mhairi Stephen, also heard evidence from Thomas Lamb, 55, the managing director of glazing firm Charles Henshaw Ltd.
He repeatedly pointed out that his firm simply made the glass as ordered by Mr McPhillips’ architectural company, PJMP Ltd.
And he confirmed his staff double-checked the change in size of the gap.
However, lawyers for all parties have agreed that the building did not need to meet child safety regulations, as it was approved by the City of Edinburgh Council solely as an office space.
He said: “It would have been quite simple to go and change the architect’s specified 150mm gap to 125mm, for instance, and that would have ensured there was no gap.
“We got the request to increase it and did a precautionary double-check with the architect.”
Asked by fiscal depute Angie Main whether there was any reason a glass balcony would need a 150mm gap at one end, Mr Lamb said: “None at all.
“I would suggest that just 12mm would have been sensible.”
The law has since been changed as a result of Ben’s death, the hearing heard during afternoon evidence.
Steven Scott, of the Building Standards Commission, said that as of May 1, 2007, no buildings are permitted to have gaps of 100mm in barriers, such as the one Ben fell through
Mr Scott told the hearing: “We had some dialogue to find out how this (Ben’s death) came about.
“We realised the legislation could be clarified and there was a streamlining of the message.”
The hearing, scheduled to run for eight weeks, continues on Monday.