Tower Hamlets Council charged over death of five-year-old in park in 2015

PUBLISHED: 12:56 04 August 2020

Alexia Walenkaki died a day before her sixth birthday. Picture: Family

Alexia Walenkaki died a day before her sixth birthday. Picture: Family

Walenkaki family

The council has been charged with health and safety breaches over the death of Alexia Walenkaki in a playground five years ago.

Mile End Park playground in 2015 after the tragedy. Picture: Mike BrookeMile End Park playground in 2015 after the tragedy. Picture: Mike Brooke

Alexia died in Mile End Park when a rotting log swing collapsed on her on July 17, 2015 — the day before her sixth birthday.

Tower Hamlets Council last week signed off a £2million “extraordinary cost item” from its children’s services budget to pay a potential fine and its legal costs, as the Health and Safety Executive brings a prosecution.

The authority has been charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. A hearing is due to take place in October at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

The borough’s mayor John Biggs told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the authority is planning to plead guilty.

He told a council meeting the sum set aside for the legal case was an estimate.

READ MORE: ‘Wrong wood’ used for children’s play equipment that killed Alexia Walenkaki

In 2018 a report by the Crown Prosecution Service’s special crime division found that the council, two of its employees and the contractor who designed and fitted the equipment in Mile End Park playground had “breached their duty of care”.

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It highlighted that the council had failed to organise annual inspections of the play equipment and said the wood used was unsuitable.

Although the report found “serious breaches” and a series of failings, it concluded no criminal charges would be brought against individuals or the local authority.

The most serious breach was found to be the use of poplar or willow wood for the log which killed Alexia. Both have a lifespan of three years and the log was fitted four years before her death.

At the time, Alexia’s mother Vida Kwotuah said: “After everything they found in this report I just feel it’s not fair. All these wrongs have happened yet nobody prosecuted.”

An inquest in May 2018 found there had been an “inadvertent use of inappropriate wood” in the swing’s structure by the designer and installer.

The design of the playground had specified durable oak to be used to support the swing, but cheaper poplar wood was used, the inquiry heard. An “organisational failure and lack of accountability” by the council for failing to carry out its annual inspection for 18 months also contributed to Alexia’s death, the coroner said.

READ MORE: East End mourns ‘little angel’ Alexia after playpark accident

Tower Hamlets’ general fund budget for children and culture was overspent by £9.7m last year, including the £2m it has put aside for the HSE case. A council spokesman said: “We are deeply sorry that this tragic incident happened in one of our parks.

“Following Alexia’s death, we immediately made urgent safety checks of equipment at all council-run play facilities and have brought in a more rigorous system for inspecting and maintaining park play equipment.”

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