The heartbroken family of a pensioner whose body lay undiscovered for two days at Aberdeen Market said they won’t “ever get closure” as the firm which operated it was fined £80,000.
The Market Village Company admitted failings over the death of 80-year-old Frank Finnie, who died instantly when he plunged down a dark fire escape stairwell at the indoor market.
Speaking outside court following the hearing, Frank’s son Keith said the fine would not change anything because his dad’s death could have been prevented.
“As a family we still feel aggrieved that this could have been prevented.
“I’m not sure how I feel just now. I feel a bit empty because I’ve been fighting for over two years and I don’t really have anything to fight for anymore.”
Keith said his mum Iris and brother Frank, as well as himself, had all been affected health-wise by the case.
He said: “Right now I’m just really, really happy that I can go back to mum and brother and explain the outcome of this and the judgement.
“With regards to closure I don’t think there will ever be closure because my dad’s death could have been prevented. There’s still a lot of anger and hurt and frustration there.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get closure. We’ll just have to deal with it on a day to day basis and learn to live with it.
“The fine is still irrelevant because we still feel that this could have all been prevented.
“The fine, I suppose it’s fine but it won’t change anything. It doesn’t make us feel any different.
“The family are still in the process of not having fully grieved yet because this has been ongoing.
“Mum’s health’s deteriorated unbelievably, as has my brother’s and mine. But that’s a consequence of the stress of the case.
“To say it’s been hard is an understatement. It’s something that we will have to live with and deal with every day but we’ll never fully understand why it happened.
“All this shouldn’t even have happened, it should all have been prevented.”
Keith also thanked a number of people for their support throughout the ordeal, fiscal depute Shona Nicholson, Lewis Macdonald MSP and his team, Evening Express reporter Dale Haslam and their friends and family.
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North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “I hope this finding will give Frank Finnie’s family some closure, although nothing will make up for their loss.
“The court imposed a hefty fine because of the company’s failure to protect visitors to the market. Every business operating public premises has a duty to every member of the public to keep them safe, and this makes that crystal clear.”
The Market Village Company pled guilty to a charge under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 of failing to ensure a suitable system of maintenance was in place in relation to the stairwell and in particular that the lighting was maintained, leading to Frank entering the stairwell, which was in darkness, falling down the stairs and sustaining fatal injuries.
The failures took place between June 1 2017 and June 9 2018, when Frank’s body was discovered.
Ms Nicholson told Aberdeen Sheriff Court the responsibility to maintain the fire escape stairwell had previously been that of BHS, but since the firm vacated the building it fell to the Market Village.
She said Frank was seen at the sheltered housing complex where he resided on June 7, 2018 and was in “good spirits”.
He then went out and was seen in the city centre and entering the market where he sat at a restaurant and had coffee.
The court heard Frank had asked where the toilet was and then left the restaurant.
Ms Nicholson said: “This is the last time a witness saw Mr Finnie alive.”
A volunteer janitor at the market then became aware of the fire escape door alarm sounding and alerted another janitor.
The fiscal said: “Neither completed the required check to ascertain the cause of the alarm activation. Both were under the mistaken belief the other would complete the check.”
When the market closed at the end of that day a final sweep of the building did not include the stairwell.
Care workers later reported Frank missing and on June 9, police attended at the market, checked CCTV, and then discovered his body at the bottom of the stairs.
Ms Nicholson said a postmortem revealed the cause of death had been head and neck injuries sustained in a fall down the stairs.
She added Frank would have “died immediately”.
The court heard the stairwell had been in “complete darkness” with “little to no visibility”. The lighting did not work, and neither did the emergency lighting.
A glass panel in the door had been covered up, and the door could not be opened from the stairwell side.
A full inspection of the entire building was carried out on June 22 and a number of repairs and replacement light fittings carried out and installed.
Defence counsel Barry Smith, representing the Market Village Company, tendered in court the company’s “most sincere regret that this breach resulted in such tragic consequences” and conveyed the firm’s condolences.
He said the company was now in liquidation, adding: “The directors did not make that decision lightly.”
Mr Smith said the firm had no previous convictions and had a “good safety record”.
He told the court the fire escape had been exclusively used by BHS during their tenancy, and that market staff had believed “mistakenly but not unreasonably” that the responsibility to maintain it did not lie with them.
Mr Smith continued: “The company responded appropriately and reasonably to this tragic accident. Remedial work was immediately carried out.”
Sheriff William Summers said: “It should not have taken this incident for the stairwell to be put into good order.”
The sheriff listen the issued with lighting, emergency lighting and the blocked glass panel and stated: “The result was to render the stairwell entirely devoid of any light.
“A death occurred as a result of the company’s failings.
“Had there been an emergency and customers or staff had been required to use this stairwell as a means of emergency exit the consequences were potentially catastrophic.”
He imposed a fine of £80,000 “recoverable by civil diligence”.
The Evening Express contacted the company for comment but had not received a response at the time of writing.