A disabled man was trapped in a centre run by Atos, which assesses fitness for work, when the fire alarm went off and staff evacuated the building, leaving him behind in his wheelchair.
Geoff Meeghan, 32, who has early-onset Parkinson’s and is unable to walk more than three metres without support, was being assessed on the second floor of a building in Neasden, north-west London.
Disabled people arriving for appointments are supposed to be asked if they can exit the building without assistance, but Mr Meeghan, pictured, was not. He waited with his support worker Nick Ephgrave, from the charity Parkinson’s UK, and his sister, who acts as one of his carers, before being called in for his assessment. A few minutes in, the alarm sounded and the doctor present said they needed to evacuate.
“The doctor held the door open for us to come out but then ran down the stairs and left us there,” Mr Meeghan said. “We weren’t allowed to use the lift and asked a security guard for help – he said he’d send some but no one came. Eventually another security guard came past and stayed with us, even though he had been told to evacuate.
“Even though I can tackle stairs with help, it was a highly stressful situation and I felt like it was far too risky. I was worried that flames might come up the stairs and that I might fall or something. It wasn’t a drill. We could see the fire engine arriving outside. I feel like there was a general lack of respect for disabled people at Atos – they make you feel as though you’ve done something wrong by being disabled – like you’re being persecuted.”
An Atos spokesperson said: “This should never have happened and we apologise unreservedly. We will be getting in contact with Mr Meeghan directly. We have since reviewed this case internally with the building security and management team to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”