Gravestone death could have been avoided, sheriff rules


The death of a young boy who was crushed by a gravestone in a Glasgow cemetery could have been avoided if safety precautions had been taken, a sheriff has ruled.

Ciaran Williamson, aged eight, was killed while playing with friends in Craigton Cemetery on May 16 2015.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) heard a group of five boys were playing a game involving climbing on to a large 1920s memorial, pushing off from the top to the perimeter wall and grabbing the branch of a tree to swing to the ground.

Ciaran had been standing at the base of the memorial, which weighed almost two-and-a-half tons, when it toppled.

The FAI found Glasgow City Council had stopped carrying out routine memorial inspections several years before the accident.

Sheriff Linda Ruxton ruled that if stability checks had been carried out, the memorial would have failed and been declared unsafe leading to a cordon or removal.

In her findings, the sheriff determined a routine inspection of the memorial was a "reasonable precaution whereby Ciaran's death and the accident that resulted in his death might have been avoided".

The sheriff also found that repairing the hole in the wall where the boys entered the cemetery was a reasonable precaution whereby the death might have been avoided.

Ciaran's father said his son would still be alive if the council "properly maintained the cemetery".

Sheriff Ruxton said: "I have no hesitation in accepting that this was a tragic accident. There was no suggestion that there had been a deliberate attempt by any of the boys to push over or destabilise the memorial.

"I am satisfied that, however perilous their activities, they were simply playing and had not appreciated the dangers involved."

At the time of the accident, the memorial was leaning from vertical at an angle of 6.2-6.5 degrees, with tree roots undermining the foundations of the gravestone.

The structure's tipping point was an angle of 7.6 degrees.

Sheriff Ruxton recommended new guidance be drawn up on memorial safety and stability testing for local authorities in Scotland with a focus on how to inspect large, traditional monuments, distinct from lawn memorials and other smaller structures.

Since the death, Glasgow City Council have carried out stability inspections in all city cemeteries.

Councillor Anna Richardson said: "I accept the Sheriff's findings. We are sorry and our thoughts remain with Ciaran's family and friends.

"It is clear that the Sheriff expects national guidelines and advice to be put in place for all cemeteries and, in particular, for dealing with larger and often older memorials. The council will adopt those guidelines once they are available.

"The council had already taken steps that address the Sheriff's other recommendations prior to the inquiry and used the expert evidence heard in court to further strengthen its procedures.

"We welcome the Sheriff's very clear statement that no cemetery is a safe place for play."

Ciaran's father Ryan Williamson said: "The very strong recommendations made by the sheriff are the best outcome we could have hoped for and I would like to thank her for the work she has done.

"It should have never taken the death of my son for this issue to be addressed by the authorities.

"Had Glasgow City Council properly maintained the cemetery Ciaran would still be alive today."

His mother Stephanie Griffin said the outcome has not brought a "sense of justice".

She added: "Our suffering has been made worse as we've been dragged through a process that could have been shortened had Glasgow City Council not refused to concede to obvious failings.

"The laws around FAIs should be changed so those responsible are properly held accountable and families can access the justice they need and deserve."