Reliance guard knew about gap before Ben’s fatal fall

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By Michael MacLeod

A SECURITY guard admitted he knew about a gap in a balcony even before a tragic toddler fell through to his death – but thought nothing of it.

Architect Mark McPhillips widened the gap by 5cm during construction of Edinburgh’s Princes Exchange building, where toddler Ben McCreath’s mum Louise worked as a receptionist for legal firm Ledingham Chalmers.

An inquiry already heard how 21-month old Ben’s death could have been avoided if the 15cm gap on a first floor balcony was smaller, as originally planned.

Today the same Fatal Accident Inquiry heard from the building’s security manager  Douglas Thomson of Reliance Security Services, who said he saw the gap every day, but “just walked past.”

Today (Monday), he told the Inquiry at Edinburgh Sheriff Court that since Ben’s fall, all parents and guardians must now sign disclaimers before entering the building with children.

Louise was leaving the first floor office after a brief visit on Valentines Day 2006 when her son “took off” ahead of her and slipped through the balcony gap to his death.

Asked by fiscal depute Angie Main whether he noticed the gap before Ben’s fatal fall, Mr Thomson, 49, said: “I was based at reception and was there each day.

“I just walked past it and never thought anything of it.”

Miss Main replied: “So to be clear, you saw it but you didn’t do anything about it?”

He said: “Yes I saw it, but I never thought nothing about it.”

The FAI also heard that Louise’s former employers Ledingham Chalmers moved out of the building four months after the accident.

They had never flagged up any worries about the balcony gap before Ben’s death, according to human resources director Dorothy Miller.

She said: “We went to quarterly tenants’ meetings but the issue of a gap on the balcony was never raised.

“There was no rule against staff or clients bringing children into the office.

“It wasn’t something that happened regularly but it did occasionally happen and it would be difficult to refuse anyone that.

“In the light of this tragedy we did make very sure all our premises are as safe as can be for all staff and visitors.”

Ben’s tragic fall brought about a change in Scottish building standards laws, meaning no new buildings are allowed to have gaps bigger than 10cm on balconies or staircases.

Louise previously told in a written statement tell of how her son “just took off” ahead of her as she was leaving work.

She watched on helplessly as he tumbled to the foyer below having squeezed through the gap in the glass balcony.

The building’s architect Mr McPhillips is now out of the building trade and currently runs a bed and breakfast on the West coast of Scotland.

His former boss at PJMP – now known as JM Architects – previously told the hearing that they changed their practices after Ben’s death.

Managing Director Ronald McFarlane said: “We don’t allow there to be a gap bigger than 100 millimetres in our projects, whether commercial offices or retail or anything else.”

Evidence before Sheriff Mhairi Stephen continues.

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