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Apollo ceiling collapse investigation could take years to complete

The Apollo Theatre.
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Investigations into the Apollo Theatre ceiling collapse could take another 18 months to complete, it has been revealed.

Six months since the incident, which saw part of the venue’s ceiling collapse and left 76 people injured, it has emerged that Westminster City Council is conducting a criminal investigation as part of its inquiries into circumstances surrounding the event. The criminal element will focus on whether Nimax Theatres, which operates the venue, has breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and whether an offence has been committed.

Inquiries into serious incidents in buildings such as theatres can be protracted. For example, probes into the deaths of two backstage staff at G Live in February 2013 remain open.

In an email seen by The Stage, sent in May to Chris Edwards, an audience member at the Apollo on the night of the accident, Westminster’s environmental health officer Helen Clifford said: “Investigations of this nature can take up to 18 months to two years or even longer in some instances. The investigation has many different components and each one needs to be explored thoroughly.”

Westminster City Council reported in March that initial investigations revealed the principal cause was the “deterioration over time of wadding ties which supported the ceiling, thought to be in place since its construction in 1901”. But no further information has been passed on to victims, leading to frustration.

Edwards said he was at the theatre with his family when the incident occurred and that they were all hospitalised. “I wonder why it is taking so long for the criminal investigation to report. It was explained to me that the criminal investigation is not linked to a wider investigation into the state of other buildings or the current licensing system, so I cannot understand the delay, particularly as the interim statement and advice to theatres issued in March concludes that the fault was structurally unsound plaster/wadding ties,” he said.

Irwin Mitchell is among legal firms representing victims injured on the night. It has 10 cases relating to the incident.

A spokeswoman for the firm, Katrina Elsey, said it had been a “very difficult six months for our clients, many of whom still require specialist support to recover from the physical and psychological injuries suffered in the incident”.

She said giving victims answers should be a “key priority”.

“We’ve had confirmation from the theatre company’s insurers that they are willing to work with us to ensure the cases are settled as quickly as possible,” she said. “A key priority is ensuring our clients receive comprehensive answers regarding the cause of the incident.”

Elsey emphasised it was important that “reassurances are provided to demonstrate that maintenance checks and other steps have been taken to prevent this awful incident from ever being repeated”.

Mhora Samuel, chief executive of advisory body the Theatres Trust, told The Stage that since the incident, the trust had been working with the Association of British Theatre Technicians on updating its Technical Standards for Places of Entertainment guide. She added it was working with English Heritage on “conservation guidance related to fibrous plaster suspended ceilings”.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said it had been providing advice to Westminster following the collapse. She said that guidance was being drawn up by an expert working group, chaired by the ABTT, to ensure that a “consistent and proportionate level of inspection is carried out in all theatres”. She added that EH was aiming to produce guidance on suspended ceilings and best practice in their repair.

Nimax and the Society of London Theatre said they were unable to comment while investigations were underway.

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