Knightsbridge balcony collapse: Shock as two die in one of London's most expensive districts

First floor balcony collapses on removal men as they hoist sofa

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The Independent Online

Two removal men were killed today, and several people injured, when a large iron railing on the first-floor balcony of a Knightsbridge flat collapsed and fell on them as they tried to hoist a sofa into the property using ropes.

One of the workers was pronounced dead at the scene, while a second was taken by air ambulance to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, but also died from his injuries. Six other people were injured in the accident in Cadogan Square, one of London’s most expensive residential areas.

One witness told the Telegraph that they saw one of the men impaled on railings: "There was a lot of screaming and shouting. One man was impaled on the railings.

"He looked in a very bad way, I think he was one of the men who died. I think the people who received other injuries were all removal men too, or at least most of them were."

Police investigators and the fire brigade were also called to the scene a few minutes’ walk from Sloane Square around 10am, and found many neighbours crying in the streets and in shock. Witnesses said several workers on the ground were hit by the 25-foot heavy railing and sofa while others fell from the balcony as the railing gave way.

Scaffolding from different companies was all over four buildings on the same side of the square as the accident occurred, but neighbour Abel Damoussi said the removal operation had looked “amateurish”.

He said: “There was a lot of noise, which we don’t usually have that early in the morning. It was only when I came out the building and found Cadogan Square cordoned off that I realised something had happened.

“You don’t attach ropes to a railing when you are going to remove a piece of furniture. Usually an engineer can calculate the load bearing you can exert on such a rail, especially when you can see the balcony is suspended. I’m not an engineer but it doesn’t take rocket science to know you have to count the weight of what you are taking down from a balcony before tying it to the railing.”

The majority of the street’s balconies are very small, with enough room only for one or two chairs and a small table. However, the hedge-lined balcony where the accident occurred was slightly larger.

Sinclair Johnston, an engineer who has worked on another property in the square, said the decorative railings could not be depended upon to support weight.

He said: “These sorts of constructions are always very fragile and the iron railings can rust and the stone can become fragile and break up so you never really know how strong they are. It’s something that engineers are very aware of. The ironwork is incredibly heavy so if it falls off it can be a disaster.”

The ropes could still be seen dangling from the flat after the tragedy with plastic sheets spread across the pavement. Surveying company Select Services, whose employees were working nearby but not involved in the incident, said one of its workers had witnessed the events and was subsequently treated for shock.

Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg Hands confirmed that the pair who died had been removal men. He said: “Worth remembering the hazards faced by removal workers, particular in tight environments in central London like Cadogan Square.”

An Italian lady who lives off the square said: “You wake up and walk out of your door but never expect to see what I did this morning. One of the men was lying in the street covered in blood and lots of people were around crying. It’s so sad.

An investigation into the accident began Police put up a tent where one of the men had died and blocked off most of the street while they trace the victims’ next of kin. Neighbour Raj Ramanoop said he had seen the father of one of the victims being consoled by police.

He said: “He was very upset. He had swollen eyes. The police did not want him to see the body. It is very sad. Maybe these balconies aren’t designed to take this weight. They need to be more careful when they are hoisting things up.”

A classic Rolls Royce, a Bentley and several top of the range Audi and Mercedes cars lined the red-bricked Victorian square named after Earl Cadogan and the 8th Earl, a multi-billionaire, is the freeholder of most of the properties. Houses are worth around £25m – most of the five- or six-storey terraced properties have been converted into flats which also sell for up to £10m. Ivana Trump owned a property in the square until recently when she sold a six-year lease on her ground floor flat for £1.4m.

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We sent three ambulance crews, an advanced paramedic, a hazardous area response team and London’s Air Ambulance. Every effort was made to resuscitate a patient but sadly a man died at the scene. Another man was taken to St Mary’s Hospital as a priority. Six patients were treated for minor injuries but did not need to go to hospital.”

Both deceased men are believed to be of Polish origin. A Met spokesman said: “Post-mortem examinations will be held in due course. Next of kin are in the process of being informed. At this early stage it is believed that a number of sofas were being delivered to the address - which was under renovation - prior to the railings on the balcony giving way.”