Grieving Sheffield mum pleads for safer barriers in high-rise buildings nine years after son’s death
The untimely death of a five-year-old Afghan child whose life was cut short after he fell from a hotel window last month shocked Sheffield, but for one woman, this awful tragedy brought back painful memories.
It has taken nine, arduous long years for Ann Khan of Darnall to finally find the courage to speak up after her own son fell to his death from the top floor of one of the city's iconic buildings, the Q-Park car park on Charles Street, popularly known as the 'Cheesegrater.'
Still reeling from the loss of her beloved son, the grief-stricken mum-of-six chose to keep silent all these years until the city was rocked by the sudden death of Mohammed Munib Majeedi, whose family escaped the Taliban to seek asylum in the UK.
Just like her son's, she believes that Muhammed's death was preventable and more needs to be done to prevent further deaths involving high rise buildings.
Ann said: "It (Muhammed's death) opened up really old wounds. My son was 20 years old when he fell from the top of the Q Park.
"I was absolutely devastated and I've been very traumatised by it, and this boy's death has just brought all the feelings back. I thought it was time for me to talk about deaths from heights.
"All these deaths are preventable and there needs to be something done about it."
The 49-year-old mum said her son, Ahmad Doumani Khan, affectionately called 'Madi', was due to come home on May 3, 2012 for his sister's birthday a few days later. Instead of seeing him walk through the front door, she received a knock on the door.
"It's the police officers informing me that he's fallen to his death. It's not something I want another mother from Sheffield or beyond to ever go through. Part of me died that day and it's still very hard to talk about.
"Losing a 20-year-old son is horrific and the traumatic circumstances mean that where he fell, I still can't breathe. And I won't be able to breathe unless something is done.
"I have woken up now from my nine-year slumber and this is my first time I am speaking up about this. I think a lot of people didn't know that a young man had fallen to his death from the multi-award winning car park.
"An action needs to be taken, whether it’s building regulations or planning, these need to get sorted out as soon as possible. For a small city, we have had a lot of falls from heights in the past.”
An inquest into Madi's death was opened at Sheffield Coroner's Court on May 8, 2012, and the investigation concluded on January 21, 2013.
The conclusion of the inquest was that Madi died from multiple injuries sustained in a fall from the top level of the Q-Park car park.
The narrative conclusion stated that no other person was directly involved in the fall, but it was also not clear if he intended to take his own life.
The assistant coroner then Donald Stewart Coutts-Wood raised his concerns over a risk that future deaths would occur unless action was taken, in a copy of the report sent to Sheffield City Council (planning) and Q-Park Limited.
The concern, he said, was that the access to the perimeter wall was "very easy" as it was only about 3ft, but also the fact that inside the wall was a crash or a protective barrier for the parking of cars, which was described by the friend as being used by Madi as a 'step'.
He said any person, of almost any age, could quickly and easily gain access to the top perimeter wall for any purpose and such access was "clearly dangerous", adding that action should be taken to prevent future deaths.
But Ann said the car park's management had no plans to do so, in a letter they responded to her previously.
"They care more about the aesthetics of their building rather than human lives. That is why it silenced me. My son's life was so insignificant and inconsequential to these people.”
She said she now wants to embark on a campaign for building inspectors to take into account all safety measures before the buildings are open to the public, by installing safer perimeter protective barriers.
"They need to ensure that these buildings are safe for the public. I can't bring my son back, but I can help another mother," she said.
She added that since the incident, she has been suffering from severe anxiety and stress, especially when she goes out to the city.
"It brings back all the symptoms of anxiety and stress. Everywhere I go, it brings back to my son, I only go out when I need something, otherwise, I just stay at home,” she said.
Q-Park Limited, when asked for a response, said it didn’t have any further comment to make, having already responded in the past.
It said that as a car park operator, it was not in a position to comment on building regulations which fall under the local council’s remit.
Sheffield City Council, in a letter to the coroner’s court in 2015, said the enforcement team had established that there was no breach of planning control at the Q-Park facility and that it was also compliant with the building regulations.
It said it had written to the car park management to suggest possible alterations to its building to try to prevent something like this happening again, but there was no obligation on the owner to present a proposal to the council to better protect the parapet of the top deck of the car park.
Ann told how she recently wrote an open letter pleading with Q-Park to improve the safety of their carpark.
She said: “Please save our sons and daughters. Please install safer perimeter protective barriers so no Sheffield mother gets that dreaded knock at the door.”