'Council staff threw my late mum's keepsakes into a skip'
PUBLISHED: 11:45 12 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:33 12 July 2017
Irreplaceable items belonging to the late mother of a St Albans resident were thrown away and smashed by district council contractors.
The goods had been kept in storage space below the city’s only high-rise block of flats, Telford Court, which were cleared out this week following safety concerns in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
A fire safety assessment carried out by St Albans district council (SADC) highlighted concerns over items in storage space below the flats, and contractors were sent in to clear the space.
But residents were not told about the imminent clear-out, or given time to move their personal belongings, before contractors began uprooting, breaking, and throwing anything they found into skips.
One 25-year-old resident, who did not wish to be named, had kept and saved all of his mother’s possessions in the space after she died of breast cancer.
As he was leaving the flat on Tuesday morning, he was shocked to find pictures, jewellery, and make-up belonging to his mother strewn on the pavement and in the bin outside.
“It was like a movie scene, my jaw dropped, my gym bag slipped through my fingers and hit the floor, I couldn’t believe it.
“I don’t understand how this miscommunication happened, there was no letter sent, there is a notice board but it wasn’t on there.
“No-one knows what’s going on and it’s absolutely terrible, it’s people’s personal belongings - no-one deserves to have their stuff thrown out.” He said the contract employees were “so great, they have been amazing” - as soon as they found out what had happened, they halted work and helped him to rifle through the skips and retrieve everything they could.
But they could not salvage everything: “This has been traumatic for me, this is going to affect me for a long, long time.
“When I go through the things I have I will find out what I have lost.”
Contract employees also helped to move everything into a storage space offered by a kindly neighbour.
He would now like an apology from SADC, replacement storage space, and the responsible person to be held accountable.
District councillor for St Peter’s ward, Alun Davies, said he was shocked to hear about what happened, but is working to resolve the issue: “At the end of the day the safety of everyone who lives in that block is the most important thing, and if there’s anything stored in there that will be flammable or dangerous it needs to be taken away.
“It’s seems a bit harsh that the whole place is emptied, and if people have things of sentimental value, I feel very sad.”
Head of housing for SADC, Karen Dragovic, said their safety review identified concerns with the lower ground floor storage area, but letters notifying residents were mistakenly not posted, as they should have been.
“Rubbish had previously been cleared, but we had concerns about what might be stored in some of the sheds. A letter warning residents of the clearance should have been sent out before the work started. As soon as we became aware that had not been done, we ordered the contractor to suspend the work.”
A letter is now being sent out, informing residents they have a week to move anything they want to keep.
She added: “Fortunately, we are satisfied that nothing of value was thrown away before the work was halted as the material was mainly building rubble.
“Only one resident has raised an issue and we are dealing with his concerns. As a responsible landlord, we had no option but to take this action as our priority has to be the safety of residents.”
Another fire risk assessment is in progress in SADC’s programme of fire safety work.