Council wall that killed Saurav, two, ‘was too thin’

A BRICK wall in Gospel Oak which collapsed during a storm and killed a toddler was “too thin”, “built extremely badly” and a risk for 10 years, Southwark Crown Court heard.

A 6ft by 8ft piece of the Wendling Estate’s boundary wall gave way in Southampton Road in January 2007 – killing two-year-old Saurav Ghai who was being walked home to Hampstead from nursery by his childminder.

His father Vinay and mother Desiree, who were in court, have waited four years for the case to be heard and will soon see Camden Council sentenced for its part in their son’s death.

The council last year pleaded not guilty to breaching health and safety legislation but changed its plea to guilty in October.

The trial of issue, expected to finish today (Thursday), is to determine the extent of the council’s health and safety breaches, which is disputed.

Prosecuting James Ageros told the court that the council was in breach of health and safety rules for a decade between 1997 – when the wall was repaired by sub-contractors – to 2007 when the tragedy happened.

He said: “It was incumbent on Camden Council itself to exercise control over the work which the sub-contractor Chattertons carried out beyond making assumptions that they would do the work properly – the council did little to control that work.

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“The work was not done in accordance with good practice. The wall was built extremely badly.

“The issue is whether Camden Council is at fault for not realising that the wall was badly built.”

He said the council had failed in its duty “in inspection, repair and maintenance” and that the wall was “in an unsafe condition between 1997 and 2007 and was a risk to passers-by”.

Defence lawyer Dominic Kay agreed the wall was badly built but argued the council’s failings were more limited. He added that the contractors hired by Camden were “competent and experienced” and there had been a proper inspection system in place after that.

He added that “it is accepted that the wall was too thin for its height” but said that the type of wall was common in the 1970s when the block was built.

It is expected that Her Honour Judge Taylor will determine the extent of the council’s guilt today and a sentence will be handed down within the next two weeks.

A spokeswoman for Camden Council said: “Our deepest sympathy remains with Saurav’s family and we offer our condolences to all those affected. Safety of our residents, staff and visitors is a top priority to us and we continue to ensure that we have effective systems in place to prevent danger.

“The charge brought against Camden Council by the Health and Safety Executive under the Health and Safety At Work Act is currently being heard before Southwark Crown Court.

“At this hearing various technical issues relating to the charge are being further considered. We are unable to comment further at this time.”