Bestselling author injured in Apollo Theatre collapse hits out at ‘insensitive’ Hampstead boss

Freya and her son Felix after the accident

Freya and her son Felix after the accident - Credit: Archant

A bestselling author who was seriously injured when the ceiling of the Apollo theatre collapsed on her and her 12-year-old son has slammed a decision by Westminster council not to prosecute the venue as “contradictory and pathetic.”

Freya North also accused the theatre’s Hampstead-based chief executive of showing “insensitivity” towards victims and getting away “scot free”.

Ms North, 46, who grew up in Swiss Cottage and went to South Hampstead High School, says she and son Felix, (a former Tetherdown school pupil) are lucky to be alive after the ceiling came crashing down on them on December 19 last year.

They needed hospital treatment for deep head wounds and have been left traumatised after the terrifying incident during a family trip to see The Curious Incident Of The Dog in The Night-Time.

But exactly a year to the day since the accident, Westminster Council announced it would not be taking further action against owner Nimax Theatres as technically no laws were broken.

However the council did admit that the theatre’s inspections of its roof before the collapse were inadequate – but blamed insufficient guidelines.

Ms North said: “A year ago my son and I were caught up in the most terrifying night of our lives and we are still suffering. We’ve both experienced flashbacks and have had to have counselling.”

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“Now Westminster has let Nimax off. It’s contradictory and rather pathetic.

“By blaming insufficient guidelines, people are getting away scot free. God forbid it should happen again.”

“I thought I was going to die. We were very unlucky we were there that night, but we were also incredibly lucky to walk away from it with the injuries we had and that we weren’t killed. It is miraculous that nobody died.”

Ms North is now pursuing a personal injury claim against Nimax along with 130 other victims.

She is furious that chief executive Nica Burns, who lives in South Hill Park, has never apologized, but instead offered the victims free theatre tickets.

“This shows insensitivity. I have not been able to set foot in a theatre since. Felix went to the theatre during a school trip last month and half way through started smelling the terrible smell of the falling debris and soot.” said Ms North.

“What happened that night will stay with us for a long long time.”

Ms North gave evidence to the council’s year-long investigation.

She said: “I was shocked to learn then that they don’t visit and check their theatres. The theatres are self-regulating and Westminster trust the theatres to carry out inspections themselves.”

In its report last week Westminster health and safety officers concluded the collapse of the 113-year-old roof happened due to its age and degradation of the hessian and plaster materials.

But they said as no code of practice existed for the inspection of the buildings, only loose “technical standards”, nobody could be held legally accountable under the Health and Safety at Work act.

The Report said that although Nimax had carried out periodic inspections and certifications, “As a result of the lack of definition set out in those standards these inspections failed to get to grips with the detail of the construction of the ceiling or to categorically identify the degradation and failure of the hessian and plaster wadding ties.”

Now the council is calling for the Health and Safety Executive and the Association of British Theatre Technicians to establish “more rigorous guidance” governing ceiling checks in old theatres.

Cllr Nickie Aiken, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for premises management and licensing, added: “Using the lessons we have learnt, we have already started engaging with both of these organisations to begin drafting a new set of rules, rather than guidelines, which we hope they can bring in as soon as possible.

“This has been one of the most thorough investigations of its type, and our main aim now is to ensure that an accident like the one at the Apollo never happens again.

“We have worked with all theatres over the last 12 months and have been encouraged by the way they have proactively engaged with us following the shocking events of last year.”

Nica Burns, whose group owns five other West End theatres, told the BBC: “I welcome the conclusion of the Westminster investigation, which confirms it was a terrible accident.

“Not a day has passed where I do not think about every single audience member, the cast and staff present on that December evening.”