Death blamed on shoddy repair work poor

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The Independent Online

Shoddy building work was to blame for the death of a waitress crushed by masonry as she worked in an Edinburgh bar, an inquiry decided yesterday.

Christine Foster, 26, an Australian mining engineer, had started a working holiday at Ryan's bar just off Prince's Street on 29 June 2000 when the masonry fell three storeys to the street. The fatal accident inquiry identified at least five examples of "shoddy" repairs to the building carried out 10 years previously by McLaren Building Group, a now liquidated contractor. Among the problems were an inadequate amount of mortar and mechanical fixings.

Although unable to determine which individual or organisation was at fault, since this was outside the scope of the inquiry, Sheriff Charles Stoddart called on Edinburgh City Council to carry out an immediate audit of buildings which might threaten public safety, even though it was not legally obliged to do so. An estimated 5,000 Georgian buildings in the Scottish capital are crumbling. The responsibility for maintenance and safety rests with individual owners.

"The evidence before the inquiry clearly disclosed that although a collapse of masonry is often unexpected and unpredictable, her [Ms Foster's] death might have been avoided; the fact that it was not must be a matter of great public concern," said Mr Stoddart. He recommended that a mandatory system of council checks should be introduced. Only this could prevent other fatalities.

The council's leader, Donald Anderson, said checks had begun and that he would be pressing for greater powers to inspect buildings more often.

Ms Foster's father, Mike, said he planned to "take someone to court" over the incident. The lack of a legal requirement for maintenance was a "big fault" in the system, he said.