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Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor
A four-year-old boy was crushed to death when an unstable shop mirror fell on him, an inquest heard.
Austen Harrison was playing with a heavy fitting-room mirror while his father tried on a suit at a Hugo Boss shop when it toppled on to him, causing “devastating” head injuries.
He underwent an emergency operation to relieve pressure on his brain but died four days later in hospital after life-support was switched off.
An inquest into his death at Oxford Coroner’s Court heard that the steel-framed mirror, which was 6ft 6in high and weighed 118kg (19st), was not fixed to the wall and that its free-standing position on the floor meant it could easily overbalance.
Darren Salter, the senior coroner for Oxfordshire, told the jury of seven men and two women: “The mirror was free-standing and not fixed to the wall.
“It was apparent from the evidence that you will hear that the mirror was designed to be fixed to the wall and not free-standing.”
Austen, from Turners Hill in Crawley, West Sussex, was with his parents Simon and Irina Harrison when the incident occurred at the Bicester outlet village in Oxfordshire at around 8.30pm on June 4 2013.
Mrs Harrison and her son met with Mr Harrison after he finished work and had dinner at a Carluccio’s restaurant before going to the Hugo Boss store.
In a statement read by Mr Salter, Mr Harrison said that he tried on a number of suits and jackets in a fitting area while his wife and son wandered around the shop.
His son began playing with the mirror’s large wing panels, which were attached by hinges, and as Mr Harrison turned away he heard a huge bang.
He said: “Irina was looking for a tie with a sales assistant and Austen was stood behind me near the winged mirror.
“I walked towards her and heard a very loud bang, quite sudden, just as if something had fallen over.
“I heard someone gasp and saw a large mirror had fallen over. I instantly knew Austen was underneath it as it was not lying flat on the floor.”
Mr Harrison, a mechanical aerospace engineering consultant, lifted the mirror off his son, who was lying motionless.
He said: “He was lying face up with his legs straight out and his arms by his side.”
Mr Harrison carried his son into the main part of the shop, where he and an off-duty doctor battled to save him.
But after Austen was taken to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford he underwent emergency surgery for swelling to his brain.
Doctors told the family he would not recover from the “irreversible” damage.
Life support was switched off and he died at 5.45am on June 8. In his statement, Mr Harrison told the inquest that while his son was in hospital he went back to the shop and told managers he was in a critical condition.
Mr Harrison said he asked the manager if he had viewed the CCTV footage, and was told it showed Austen pulling the mirror off the wall.
But the footage was lost as it was played on a loop system and deleted itself before it could be saved.
The inquest heard that Austen had been playing with the winged panels of the mirror when it fell on him.
Mr Harrison told the court he had moved the panels out to help him see the suits he was trying on, and that he assumed his son must have pushed them flat as he was playing.
He added: “I didn’t have any concerns because I assumed they would be fixed to the wall.
“I couldn’t think of any reason why such a large mirror wouldn’t be fixed to the wall.”
Evidence from health and safety experts suggested the mirror would have been “very unstable” as it stood on the ground, that there was “no form of free-standing support”, and that opening the wings of the mirror would change the centre of gravity, causing it to fall forwards.
Hugo Boss staff giving evidence at the inquest said they were unsure if the mirror had been attached to the wall, and that a number of them moved the wings in the course of their work.
Former sales assistant Scott Horne told the court he “always thought the mirror was quite safe”, and that he had “no idea if it should be attached to the wall”, but that if the panels were flat it would be “a lot easier to fall”.
His colleague Adam Sayers said there were no concerns over the stability of the mirror, and that the wing panels moved easily.
Gbenga Oyebanji told the inquest he thought the mirror had been attached because he saw three holes in the wall after it had fallen, but was shocked to be told it was not.
He said: “If the mirror wasn’t attached to the wall it would have been dangerous.
“There was no way you have a mirror that is not fixed to the wall in a retail environment. For the size of that mirror it should have been fixed to the wall.”
Clarifying the situation, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, representing Hugo Boss, said: “We do not believe that the mirror was ever fixed to the wall.”
The inquest also heard from staff member Riley Hoare, who said she saw the CCTV footage before it was deleted.
She told the court she saw Austen pulling the right hand wing of the mirror towards him, step left to stand opposite the middle panel and then touch the left mirror panel, before it fell forwards towards him.
Fellow worker Vanessa Beeley added that she saw footage of Austen pulling the right hand panel “aggressively” and “with force”. The inquest continues tomorrow.
Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor