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Five-year-old’s playground death: Inquest identifies organisational failure and lack of accountability at Tower Hamlets

Posted on: 17th May 2018

A jury inquest into the death of a five-year-old girl, who died after being struck on the head by play equipment at a council-run Tower Hamlets park, today identified the inadvertent use of the wrong type of wood for the play equipment and Tower Hamlets Council’s organisational failure and lack of accountability for the annual inspections as contributing to her death.

The inquest was conducted at St Pancras Coroner’s Court by HM Senior Coroner for Inner London, Mary Hassell, who also said she will be sending a prevention of further deaths report to Tower Hamlets Council and is also considering sending a report to the Secretary of State.

Alexia Walenkaki died on 17 July 2015, after being hit by a wooden piece of children’s play equipment at Mile End Park.

During the seven-day inquest, the jury heard evidence from a playground safety specialist who said that design of the playground fell significantly below the required standard. The specialist also gave evidence that the Council fell seriously below the standard required of an operator of playgrounds when they commissioned the piece of equipment.

The court heard that the design for the playground had specified durable oak wood be used, when in fact cheaper and less durable poplar wood was used. The specialist gave evidence that the use of the wrong wood was a failing by the designer and installer.

The court also heard criticism of the Council’s failure to carry out annual checks on the equipment, with the last check being in September 2013, over a year and a half before Alexia’s death. The playground safety specialist stated that the failure to carry out the annual check was a serious breach of the Council’s duty as an operator.

Vida Kwotuah, Alexia’s deeply-traumatised mother, who witnessed the incident said after the inquest: “It is clear to me now that there were many failings here. I am truly disappointed to learn how chaotic and disorganised management was within the Council, which no doubt led to the missed annual inspection in 2014.

“Because of these failings I have lost my little girl. Alexia’s death shook the foundations of our family. It is terrible, her life was tragically cut so short. It has been horrible to relive the events through the inquest and I hope that no parent ever loses their child in the same circumstances.

“We hope that lessons have been learnt and safeguards are now in place to ensure that no further annual inspections are missed. We also hope that checks are made when new equipment is installed, to make sure it is done properly. Children have a right to play safely in public playgrounds”.

The family’s solicitor, Peter Todd of London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen said: “Local authorities and installers of play equipment across the UK should carefully study the findings of this inquest. In the current era of funding pressures on local government, children’s play areas need to remain places where children can play safely and parents can be confident their children are safe. Otherwise there is a real risk another tragic event will happen again.”

Ends

For further information, please contact:
Kerry Jack at Black Letter Communications on 020 3567 1208 or at kerry.jack@blacklettercommunications.co.uk.

Notes for Editors

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