CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Scaffold collapse: ‘We expected to see bodies’

Florist thanks his luck after 'miracle of Pond Street'

14 March, 2019 — By Tom Foot and Samantha Booth

John Atkins

A FLOWER seller says he bought a bottle of brandy for “God” after his hut escaped a dramatic scaffolding collapse.

John Atkins, who has run a stall in South End Green for 34 years, believes he and his wife Elaine were saved by a lamppost that bent double, taking the weight of debris.

The Health and Safety Executive has launched an investigation after four storeys of scaffolding, estimated to be 200 square metres, blew off the flats in high winds and crashed onto the normally busy street on Thursday afternoon.

The accident has been dubbed the “miracle of Pond Street” because no injuries were reported.

Mr Atkins said: “The lamppost guided the scaffolding back towards the hospital. It saved us. Otherwise, we’d have been done for. The lamppost was totally bent over. It was one of the closest shaves I’ve had here. I tell you that. We froze when it happened. We just stood there, in so much shock. I was just looking at it, thinking there must be people under the scaffolding. I was expecting to see bodies. We couldn’t picture something like that happening without someone getting killed.”

Mr Atkins said he had been reassured by firefighters who scanned the debris with thermal-imaging technology.

“To be honest, the way I look at it is that God’s garden was very full to make that road so empty during those two minutes when it came down,” he said.

“I’ve never seen it so empty as that, at that time of day. It is unbelievable no one was hurt. I’m not a religious man, but now I am thinking when my time comes I am going to take a bottle of brandy with me for God. We are going to have a drink together about this.”

Mr Atkins said he had lost earnings for Thursday afternoon and Friday when roads were closed.

He pointed to smashed bricks that had flown across Pond Street and landed in the garden of the Royal Free Hospital’s gynaecology centre. Brick chimneys came off the top of the flats, due to be repaired by its freeholder. Ambulances rushed out of the Royal Free and paramedics ran down the hill after the scaffolding blew over.

Susana Fernandez, 44, who was with her 14-year-old daughter Carolina Castrillon, said: “It was about five seconds after we had walked past. We are still in shock for our lives.”

Hilary Barnes, who was on the C11 at a bus stop when the scaffolding started to fall, said: “I was going up towards to Hampstead and we stopped outside M&S – thank God. “As we were waiting there this whole thing, it goes up the whole of the building, it started to very slowly go outward and then it buckled. It was extraordinary.”

Hampstead Town ward councillor Maria Higson said: “It is miraculous that no one was injured in an accident that had the potential to seriously injure, if not kill.” This week, Heathrow-based ALB Scaffolding workers took down the remaining scaffolding. The company said it had 10 years’ experience providing “unique scaffolding solutions”. It has not responded to requests for comment from the New Journal. The HSE is investigating the reasons behind the collapse.

Meanwhile, stormy winds battered streets across Camden. A horse chestnut tree fell into the street, blocking The Grove in Highgate, near the homes of Sting and Kate Moss, on Sunday afternoon. At the Chalcots estate, a window panel fell from the high-rise Dorney tower.

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