Run-down Hallam Tower in Sheffield where teenager plunged to death 'had become haven for urban explorers'

A university student fell to his death from an abandoned hotel in Sheffield which had become a haven for 'urban explorers', an inquest heard.

Monday, 23rd April 2018, 3:41 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd April 2018, 3:46 pm
Thomas Rhodes, who fell to his death at Hallam Tower

Thomas Rhodes, aged 19, was found dead at the foot of the dilapidated Hallam Tower in Broomhill, close to a fire hose which had been draped down from a height.

Concerns had been raised that intruders had gone to 'extreme lengths' to access the 1960s building on Manchester Road, where demolition work began last September, including using ropes and the fire hose, Sheffield Coroner's Court heard today.

Hallam Tower at the time of Thomas Rhodes' death

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Mr Rhodes, a first-year geography student at the University of Sheffield, fell to his death on March 26 last year, which was Mother's Day.

His death prompted the tower's owners to plead with so-called 'urban explorers' to stay away from the building for their own safety.

Thomas had previously accessed the site from the ground floor in November 2016, four months before his death, the inquest heard.

Hallam Towers being demolished last year

Prior to the fatal fall, there had been repeated calls to 'make safe' the potentially dangerous building which had a trespassing problem of 'epidemic proportions', the court was told.

The introduction of round-the-clock security - at a cost of £12 an hour per worker - had been recommended at the site which had lain derelict for 10 years.

Sheffield Council had urged the owners to properly secure the building after it received 'multiple' reports from residents of intruders.

Hallam Tower at the time of Thomas Rhodes' death

Police were called to the site when youths damaged several cars after being spotted throwing debris from the roof of the hotel into the road in February 2017, the court heard.

The fire service also had to break down a secure gate after arsonists torched a section of the building.

Gravel had been piled against a doorway and gates were reinforced to secure the site, the inquest was told.

Hallam Towers being demolished last year

Six days prior to Mr Rhodes' death, a local resident sent an email and photograph to the council of a fire hose hanging out of a first-floor window.

Stephen Exley, from the council, told the court: "I was obviously shocked. I would still say any building is not intrinsically dangerous, but the owners had secured it to a reasonable level.

"We are a reactive service. The fire hoses were used to get out of the building rather than getting in."

He added: "We have powers to issue notices. If you don't do anything in 48 hours we can come and secure the building.

"There was not an easy access. It would appear from the end of 2012 it was relatively quiet until 2016.

"There was a report in May, a report in June and a further report in August."

Julian Arnell, a building surveyor, argued that a local newspaper article which included a link to a YouTube video 'glorified' breaking into the site as an adventure sport.

He said: "Where Thomas was found was at the far end of the building. A fire hose had been draped down from an elevation.

"Every time we identified an area where someone was getting in, it was dealt with.

"That made them more determined to find another way. They took more risks to get in.

"You are caught between a rock and a hard place. All you can do is respond to reports and get the situation dealt with as soon as possible.

"It was just an ongoing situation that you were managing as well as could be."

Planning permission had been granted in 2009 to partially demolish structures at the base but the tower would be retained and converted.

An application to vary the previous permissions was submitted and granted in 2012, the court heard.

Partial demolition of ancillary buildings preserved the planning permission but the full conversion never took place.

There had been considerable discussions about demolishing the building in its entirety, which the council supported but said owners would need to submit a planning application.

Fresh plans for housing at the site have since emerged.

The three-day inquest continues.