The grieving mother of a 12-year-old boy who died after falling 20 feet from a school staircase banister has blasted health and safety inspectors.
A coroner ruled tragic Michael Sousa died by “misadventure” after he fell from the third floor just hours after a teacher told him not to slide down his school’s banisters.
Health & Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Paul Carter told an inquest on Monday that the 1.1m tall banister at Jane Austen College in Norwich, Norfolk, was “compliant” with safety laws given “reasonable” use.
But the tragic Year 7 pupil’s mother 37-year-old Sandra Rodriguez is “very upset” that safety recommendations over school stairwells were not made.
Her sister Tatiana Rodriguez, 35, added: “She’s extremely angry that no one sees that things can be done and improvements can be made.
“She is disappointed because no one recognised that the stairs could made safer for the kids – had someone recognised that at least it would give her a bit of peace of mind.
“We are not angry at the coroner’s decision because we understand that her decision is based on what’s in front of her but she has the last word and we were hoping that she would be a bit flexible about her decision and say let’s make it a bit safer.
“We were hopeful that something would be done but to see that it actually did come to nothing is quite upsetting.
“But for that to happen HSE had to say there’s room for improvement at the stairs so I think it goes back to them.
“In HSE’s point of view if the school is compliant with regulations then they don’t think anything needs to be done.”
She said the Government agency was not “fit for purpose” for protecting children at schools and added: “They are being a bit inconsiderate in how children actually are in real life.
“We feel like he [the inspector] was basically blaming my nephew for falling down the stairs, basically saying it was his fault he fell because he was using it ‘unreasonably’.
“I don’t think the regulations are made up thinking about every single possibility. I believe they need to be reviewed and amendments and improvements need to be made at least in relation to the stairs.”
Michael suffered fatal head injuries after plummeting onto the ground below a day after his 12th birthday on January 23.
His life-support machine was turned off eight days later and his family is now calling for the Government to increase the standard height of school stairwell banisters to 1.3m.
Tatiana added: “We are not going to give up, we are still fighting to do something because something will be done for Michael’s justice and for the safety of other students.
“The overall goal is to make sure that at least in schools, the stairs regulations are changed or improved.”
Referring to this photo of the banister the HSE released on Tuesday, she said: “I went there right after his death but I haven’t been there after – to look up and imagine what he was seeing as he was falling down, it makes my chest quite tight.
“I’m not saying we have to child-proof the school or anything but at least do as much as you can to make sure it will not happen again.
Norfolk Coroner’s Court heard how a police investigation found that “pupils do sometimes slide on the banisters or go on the banisters” at the school.
Peter Bloomfield, the vice principal at the time, said he remembered hearing Michael’s body fall past him as he stood on the second floor.
He said: “I was on the second set of stairs just before the first floor… I sensed what I thought was an object dropping past me.
“I looked down to see a pupil on the floor who was not moving at the time.
“I shouted to the students to go back up stairs and get away from the scene and proceeded to clear the space.”
Paediatric Consulant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Dr Ricardo Branco said Michael was declared “brain-stem dead” on January 31 and his cause of death was given as “severe traumatic brain injury” due to a “fall from height”.
The inquest heard how police found there were no suspicious circumstances around the death.
The inquest heard Michael was wearing a heavy schoolbag at the time and that there was no CCTV of the incident.
Det Sgt Wilson described Michael’s death as a “terrible accident” and said the school had “adequate” safety measures in place at the time.
He added:”My personal opinion is that that bag has caused the unbalancing which as caused Michael to fall off the banisters.”
Senior coroner Jacqueline Lake concluded Michael died as a result of “misadventure”.
HSE inspector Paul Carter said: “Having looked at the photograph the first thing I would say is that the standard of guard rails and fencing of the stair well and stair case is of a very high standard.”
He said the HSE investigation found “that stair well which had been since the building had changed its usage was compliant” with legal safety regulations given “reasonable” use of the stairs.