Wednesday 11 December 2019

Council could be prosecuted over five-year-old girl's zip wire death

Alexia Walenkaki (5)
Alexia Walenkaki (5)

Hannah Stubbs

A London council could be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter after a five-year-old girl died in a zip wire accident in a playground it maintained, an inquest hearing heard.

Alexia Walenkaki suffered severe injuries when a tree the wire was attached to collapsed in Mile End Park, east London.

A pre-inquest review at St Pancras Coroner's Court heard that an investigation by the Metropolitan Police's Serious Crime and Homicide Command is continuing and manslaughter charges may be brought against Tower Hamlets Council.

Detective Inspector Craig Bradley told senior coroner Mary Hassell more expert evidence is being gathered.

He said: "We are in the process of investigating the possibility of corporate manslaughter or gross negligence. We have liaised very closely with the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service)."

Police were called just after 5.30pm on Friday July 17 and attended the scene with London Ambulance Service, which found Alexia in cardiac arrest. She died at the Royal London Hospital at 6.43pm that evening.

The tree trunk was decayed and one expert has compiled a report on its state, the court heard.

Mr Bradley said: "We have had to contact another expert in relation to the trunk concerning the level of the decay in the tree and whether it would have been visible in an inspection or not."

At the time of Alexia's death a joint investigation was launched by the Metropolitan Police and the Health and Safety Executive.

Once the CPS has received the second expert's report it is likely to make a decision on whether to bring a prosecution for manslaughter.

If it decides not to bring charges, the investigation will be passed to the Health and Safety Executive, the court heard.

Mark Scoggins, for Tower Hamlets, told the hearing a corporate manslaughter charge was not appropriate.

He said: "That requires that at a very serious level there have been gross failings high up the senior management chain."

He added: "The issue is literally down on the ground, it is difficult to see how senior managers up the chain could have knowledge of that."

The coroner asked for witness statements to be collected from council workers who planned the maintenance schedule of the park and the person doing the maintenance.

An inquest with a jury will run for four days starting on April 11. If a criminal prosecution is brought, the inquest will be adjourned.

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