It was a tragedy that could have been ‘easily avoided’ – and which led to a little girl’s death, writes Ellen Beardmore,
Flats caretaker Robert Warner was beginning a four-year jail term today as the family of Ryaheen Banimuslem were left to grieve the loss of their beautiful two-year-old girl.
She plunged from a fourth-floor walkway at an apartment block in Sheffield – because ‘overworked’ Warner, a father and grandfather himself, had failed to replace a smashed panel in a protective glass barrier.
A Health and Safety Executive probe is continuing into the case.
Sheffield Crown Court heard it was Warner’s ‘irresponsible failure’ to board up a missing balcony panel which caused the toddler to fall 60ft to her death.
Ryaheen was playing tig with her brother when she fell through a gap in a barrier on a fourth-floor walkway at North Bank apartments on Willey Street, off The Wicker, near Sheffield city centre.
The apartment block was plagued by vandalism, Sheffield Crown Court heard, and maintenance man Robert Warner was ‘overworked’.
But judge Mr Justice Stephen Males QC, sentencing Warner to four years in jail, told him: “You took no steps to board up the gap as you could easily have done, or even to draw attention to its existence, and simply left the gap there for a period of almost two weeks.”
Jurors yesterday found Warner guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in a majority verdict, after four days of deliberation.
The 45-year-old, of Shirehall Crescent, Shiregreen, had removed a glass panel from the walkway barrier to replace another smashed panel in a communal garden – but did not cover the walkway gap or warn residents of the danger.
Justice Males said he did not believe Warner – who was described as hard-working, helpful and conscientious – left the gap deliberately.
And there was compelling evidence that Warner was unable to cope in a building that suffered ‘frequent and mindless vandalism’ – and was ‘run off his feet’ after his days were cut from seven to two by flats management company Arim.
No residents had reported the panel as missing to him, despite using the walkway frequently.
But, the judge told Warner: “Nevertheless your failure to board up the gap was a thoroughly irresponsible failure, which has caused the tragic death of a little girl and brought grief to her family.
“For whatever reason you created an obvious danger for any little child using the garden and, even if it slipped your mind under the pressure of other work, you did nothing to remove the danger for an extended period.
“The families who used the garden relied on you to keep it safe.”
Ryaheen fell on June 27, 2012, and was pronounced dead at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
Her family had moved to Sheffield from Iraq so her father Hikmat Banimuslem could study for a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University.
The jury returned a majority verdict of 10 to two after a three-week trial.
Warner, a divorced father and grandfather, had denied the offence.
* A detective today said the tragic death of toddler Ryaheen Banimuslem could have been ‘easily avoided’.
Detective Inspector Sean Bird also said the case – which a small team of police officers and health and safety experts investigated for 19 months – was ‘unusual’ as it had the potential to result in both individual and corporate prosecutions.
Echoing the judge’s comments, that to board up the gap where Ryaheen fell would have been simple, DI Bird said: “This is something that could easily have been avoided.
“It has been devastating for Ryaheen’s family. They have only been in Sheffield for a very short time, and it has had a huge impact on their lives.
“They have displayed a lot of strength and dignity throughout and have asked to grieve in private. I hope the conclusion of these proceedings will bring them closure.
“It has been an unusual case. I haven’t seen another like it in 24 years of police work.”
A Health and Safety Executive probe is continuing into the ‘wider picture’ of the case, he added.