Glasgow & West Scotland

Headstone death inquiry hears checks 'did not follow' guidance

Ciaran James Williamson Image copyright Police Scotland

A senior council worker has told an inquiry into the death of boy at a Glasgow cemetery that inspections of headstones at the time "didn't offer the protection required".

Ciaran Williamson, eight, was playing with friends in Craigton Cemetery when a headstone fell on him on 26 May 2015.

Alasdair Brown, who worked for Glasgow City Council in 2015, was giving evidence at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

He said a review of inspections did not take place until after Ciaran's death.

A fatal accident inquiry is being held to establish if there were any reasonable precautions that could have prevented the incident and to establish if there were any defects in the system of work which caused or contributed to Ciaran's death.

Mr Brown, who has now left the council, was head of environment and sustainability in May 2015.

He admitted that the checks of headstones at the time of the incident fell short of what was required and did not follow guidance.

'Not following guidance'

Dorothy Bain QC representing Ciaran's mother Stephanie Griffin asked: "What was going on before Ciaran's accident was inadequate, wasn't it?"

Mr Brown replied: "There was a programme of inspection, it was not a programme of inspection that followed guidance and therefore it wasn't doing what it was supposed to do."

It was put to the witness that if something does not do what it is supposed to do that it is "inadequate".

He answered: "It didn't offer the level of protection that was required."

Again, Ms Bain put to him that it was "inadequate" and he said: "I fully accept the programme of headstone checks pre-2015 was not following guidance."

The inquiry heard of a council report compiled and shown to a committee of councillors in October 2013.

Ms Bain confirmed with the witness that Frank McAveety, the now leader of Glasgow City Council, was one of the councillors on that committee.

She read out from the document that the purpose of the report was to advise the committee of improvements carried out to council cemeteries and crematoria and plans for the coming financial year.

The inquiry was told the document read: "At present there is limited inspection and maintenance programme in the interest of memorial safety/amenities".

It outlined a plan to work with the Scottish Prison Service, with inmates getting ready to return to life outside prison, and have them carry out work.

It said the work would include initial assessment of memorials and laying flat any unsafe stones.

Maintenance programme

Mr Brown said: "This wasn't about us creating a health and safety programme, there should have already been a health and safety programme in place.

"Anything that the prisoners were going to be doing was going to be additional or a bonus if you like."

Miss Bain again said to him that it said in the document there was a "limited inspection and maintenance programme".

He replied: "It's there in black and white."

She continued: "It goes on to say that the work wasn't carried out as a core function by Glasgow city council staff.

The witness said: "That's not what should be taken from that, the council were doing headstone checks, I accept it wasn't to guidance at the time, they were doing headstone checks at the time."

Mr Brown claimed records showed that there were inspections carried out between 2003 and 2011 and after that he has "verbal evidence".

Sheriff Linda Ruxton clarified with him that the core function he said was in place, but that didn't follow any guidance, was the practice of checking five gravestones on either side of where a burial was going to take place.

She asked: "Is that what you're referring to or was there more?" He replied that he "wasn't aware of any others".

The inquiry continues.

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