Sheffield toddler plunges to death from balcony with ‘missing panel’

The balcony in a block of flats on Willey Street, Sheffield, where a three-year-old girl died
The balcony in a block of flats on Willey Street, Sheffield, where a three-year-old girl died
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POLICE and health and safety officials were last night questioning those involved in the management of an apartment block where a two-year-old girl plunged 60ft to her death.

Both South Yorkshire Police and the Health and Safety Executive said staff would today be continuing their inquiries into the tragedy at the Wicker Riverside Apartments in Sheffield.

The scene of the accident in Sheffield

The scene of the accident in Sheffield

The child who died, Ryaheen Banimuslem, was apparently playing on a communal balcony on the fourth floor of the building in Willey Street when she fell at about 4.30pm on Wednesday.

She was taken to Sheffield Children’s Hospital but died just minutes later.

Her father Hikmat, who is studying for a PhD at Sheffield’s Hallam University, yesterday said Ryaheen had been able to fall because one of the balcony’s glass panels was missing.

Mr Banimuslem said his wife, who was with the child, had not noticed the missing panel, and added: “There were always missing glass panels from time to time and no one came to repair them”.

The fourth floor balcony from where the girl fell

The fourth floor balcony from where the girl fell

Tenants who live in the block have made a series of complaints about the 10-storey building on internet forums, reporting repeated problems with lifts and a general lack of repairs.

The 127-flat block was built by a Manchester-based company called Artisan Wicker Riverside Ltd in 2007, but that firm went into receivership at the end of last year and a new management company was appointed.

It is understood that tenants had reported vandalism and last night both the receiver and management firm Allsop Residential Investment Management (ARIM) said they were “liaising with police”.

Hazel Sharp, the business development manager with ARIM, which has offices in Leeds, said she was aware of “historical” complaints about upkeep, but added they pre-dated the firm’s involvement with the building.

“Obviously our thoughts go out to the family of the little girl,” said Mrs Sharp.

“We will be carrying out our own investigation, and we are helping police with their inquiries.

“We have been managing the building on behalf of the receivers for six months and the complaints that have been made about the block are from a time before we took over.”

Mrs Sharp said she could not comment on “speculation” about the glass panels in the balcony or how vandals would have been able to access the building in order to remove or damage them.

Joe Pitt, head of recovery and restructuring at London-based receiver BNP Paribas, said the building had passed into his hands after Artisan Wicker Riverside defaulted on loans secured against the block.

He added: “We are aware of the tragic incident and we are deeply distressed to have heard about what happened. We are clearly co-operating with the investigating authorities.”

Last night, a spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said officers had examined the balcony from which Ryaheen had fallen, which had now been made safe.

A family liaison officer has been appointed by the force to help the child’s family come to terms with what has happened.

The police spokesman said: “Officers have been at the block throughout the day and we are still investigating the circumstances around what happened.”

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said officers had been contacted about the death and added: “The HSE has been made aware and is making inquiries into the circumstances of the incident.”

It is understood that Ryaheen’s parents were making arrangements to take their daughter to their home country of Iraq to be buried.

Family friend Baseem Alsabbagh, 36, who was at the scene of the tragedy yesterday, said the girl’s mother was close by, but was unsure if she witnessed the child fall.

He said the family was from Iraq and had moved to the block of flats last September.

“They are heartbroken. She was a lovely, beautiful baby,” Mr Alsabbagh said.

“I can’t describe it. They never expected this to happen.

“They are in shock. They can’t believe what has happened.”

He said a number of glass panels on the balcony had been broken in the past.

He said the family lived on the eighth floor, but the little girl was playing in the sunshine on the fourth floor when the tragedy happened.

He said there were “important questions” to answer regarding safety on the balcony and missing glass panels.

“They should have been fixed, there should be extra safety up there.”

But he added: “I think the family are only thinking about taking their daughter back to Iraq.

“She was lovely and beautiful and always playing. We have happy memories of her.”