Westminster City Council has called on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) to establish new, more rigorous, guidance governing ceiling checks in historical theatres and cinemas.
Following the internal collapse of part of the ceiling at the Apollo Theatre in 2013, a year-long investigation has concluded that:
As a result, the council has concluded that the theatre company and the ceiling inspection firm should not be prosecuted, because they followed the current guidelines.
Cllr Nickie Aiken, Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for premises management and licensing, said: “This has been one of the most thorough investigations of its type, and our main aim now is to ensure that an accident like the one at the Apollo never happens again.
“So, today we are calling on the HSE and ABTT to tighten and improve the technical standards on ceiling checks in historical buildings, including theatres and cinemas.
“Using the lessons we have learnt, we have already started engaging with both of these organisations to begin drafting a new set of rules, rather than guidelines, which we hope they can bring in as soon as possible.
“The accident last year must have been a frightening experience for those people who were involved, and we really appreciate a number of them coming forward during the investigation. We hope that the conclusion of our investigation will bring some closure to the events of that day.
“Simply put, the onus needs to change – experts and owners need to prove that structures are safe, rather than not prove that they are unsafe.
“We have worked with all theatres over the last 12 months and have been encouraged by the way they have proactively engaged with us following the shocking events of last year.”
During the investigation, the council employed three experts; Richard Ireland, an historic plaster specialist and Jason Howell and Michael Coombs, both of whom are structural engineers employed by Alan Baxter and Associates to provide specialist opinion.
Their findings were key to identifying why the theatre ceiling collapsed and what events led to it, and helped the council issue interim guidance earlier in 2014 allowing the theatres to carry out immediate checks.
Westminster Health and Safety Officers worked for over 900 hours, conducted 25 interviews with theatre staff, ceiling inspectors, audience members, emergency services, actors and witnesses, and carried out checks on maintenance dating back nearly a decade. They also scrutinized the role of ceiling inspectors.
As a result, the council has found theatres being much more proactive in checking balconies, lighting, rigging, loading capacities and ceilings. Since April 2014, Westminster has carried out inspections across all theatres in the city.
Westminster has had a great deal of interest from local authorities on the work that has been done over the last 12 months, including those in Glasgow and Leeds, and is actively engaging with other authorities to share its findings and prevent a similar event elsewhere in the UK.
On 19 December 2013, at 8.15pm, plaster fell from the roof of the ceiling at the Apollo Theatre during a performance. 88 people were injured in an audience of approximately 775.
The ceiling of the Apollo dates back to the original construction of the theatre in 1901. The Apollo Theatre is a Grade II listed building.
The Apollo Theatre’s ceiling was last inspected in September 2013.