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Boy's headstone death 'could have been prevented'


Ciaran James WilliamsonImage copyright
Police Scotland

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Ciaran Williamson died in May 2015

The death of an eight year-old boy who was hit by a headstone in a cemetery could have been prevented, a sheriff has ruled.

Ciaran Williamson was critically injured in Craigton Cemetery in Cardonald, Glasgow, on 26 May 2015.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry concluded Glasgow City Council did not have “an active system of inspection to ensure the safety and stability of memorials”.

The failure to repair a hole in a perimeter wall was also criticised.

Ciaran was playing in the graveyard when a 7ft headstone, erected in the 1920s and referred to as the Ross Memorial, toppled over and landed on him.

The schoolboy’s friends raised the alarm but the FAI later heard his death was “instantaneous”.

Ciaran’s father Ryan Willamson said: “Had Glasgow City Council properly maintained the cemetery Ciaran would still be alive today.”

And his mother Stephanie Griffin has called for the law to be overhauled to allow prosecutions when failings are identified.

She said: “This FAI found major gaps in council processes which tell us it has been either defiant or negligent.”

Council failures

Sheriff Linda Ruxton ruled that the absence of an active system of inspection to ensure the safety and stability of memorials in Glasgow cemeteries and, in particular, in Craigton Cemetery was “a defect in Glasgow City Council’s system of working which contributed to Ciaran’s death and the accident resulting in his death”.

The FAI also concluded that repairs to the perimeter wall, so that there was not a convenient but unauthorised access point, was a “reasonable precaution whereby Ciaran’s death and the accident resulting in his death might have been avoided”.

The sheriff also said hand inspections at various heights on the memorial, which fell on Ciaran, to test for movements would also have been a “reasonable precaution whereby Ciaran’s death and the accident resulting in his death might have been avoided”.

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Google

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Ciaran died after the headstone fell on him at Craigton Cemetery

Sheriff Ruxton recommended that the Scottish government issue separate guidance on memorial safety in cemeteries for use by the country’s 32 local authorities.

She added: “Such guidance should include a category of advice on how to inspect large, traditional monuments such as the Ross memorial, as distinct from lawn memorials and other smaller structures.

“Given the potential danger posed by large leaning memorials, these should be given special attention and clear guidance issued as to the procedures for testing their safety and stability in order to assess whether there is concerning movement associated with such structures.”

The FAI also called on Glasgow City Council to reconsider its 2015 guidance on memorial inspection to take account of the issues raised.

And it recommended an overhaul of existing industry guidance on memorial safety, including the production of separate guidelines for traditional memorials that have tilted over time.

Family agony

Mr Williamson welcomed the FAI’s conclusions but added: “It should have never taken the death of my son for this issue to be addressed by the authorities.

“The recommendations made in the FAI must be acted on immediately by the city council and by the Scottish Government.

“An accident like this, which was completely preventable, must never happen again.

“No family should ever have to suffer the loss we have.”

His lawyer Eilish Lindsay, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The awful accident which took the life of eight-year-old Ciaran could so easily have been avoided had Glasgow City Council taken steps to maintain Craigton Cemetery.

“If any good can come from this terrible tragedy, it will be that no other child or member of the public is injured or worse due to poor maintenance in Scotland’s cemeteries.”

Meanwhile, Ciaran’s mother accused officials of dragging out the FAI process and fears they will ignore any guidance passed down by the court.

Ms Griffin said: “Every day we are crippled with the agony of losing Ciaran but this conclusion has not brought peace, answers or even a sense of justice.”

Mark Gibson, of Digby Brown Solicitors, said: “The determination highlights that the council failed to adhere to longstanding industry standards for the inspection and maintenance of large memorials.

“It was clear from the evidence that this substantial memorial ought to have been a priority given that it was leaning precariously and given its position close to the site of a previous similar accident, a public thoroughfare, a local primary and the homes of many local children.

“Importantly, Sheriff Ruxton found the children were simply playing and there was no suggestion of a deliberate attempt by any of the boys to push over or destabilise the memorial in question.

‘Instantaneous and painless’

Ciaran died in the cemetery shortly after 19:00 but was formally pronounced dead at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill, less than an hour later.

The FAI aimed to establish if there were any reasonable precautions that could have prevented the tragedy.

It also considered if there were any defects in the system of work that caused or contributed to Ciaran’s death.

In November 2016 the inquiry heard from Ciaran’s mother, Stephanie Griffin, about her desperate attempts to save his life.

It was also told Glasgow City Council carried out a safety assessment at the cemetery and laid between 500 and 900 headstones flat over concerns they were unsafe.

Last August Ms Griffin told BBC Scotland she hoped other parents would become more aware of the dangers lurking around them.

She said: “Maybe it’s a graveyard – or an old factory.

“Maybe just try to speak to their children.

“If they see something that needs repaired, to report it.”



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