Owners not aware of 'epidemic' of trespassing at derelict Sheffield building where student fell to death, says coroner

Thomas Rhodes (inset) died after falling from the ninth floor of the derelict Hallam Tower on March 26 last year
Thomas Rhodes (inset) died after falling from the ninth floor of the derelict Hallam Tower on March 26 last year

The council and the owners of a derelict Sheffield building where a student fell to his death were not aware of the ‘epidemic’ of trespassing taking place, a coroner has said.

First year student Thomas Rhodes, 19, tragically died after falling from the ninth floor of former hotel, Hallam Towers, on Mother's Day - March 26 - last year.

He is believed to have visited the building alone.

At the conclusion of Thomas’ inquest this afternoon, Sheffield Coroner, Christopher Dorries, said he did not think it was an undue exaggeration to describe the level of trespass at the site, which contains the hotel tower, as an ‘epidemic’.

“One only has to go through the evidence of students read here, and particularly those four present at the time Thomas was found, to realise access to the site (as opposed to the hotel) was not difficult,” said Mr Dorries, adding: “Despite efforts to dissuade trespassers, Thomas was able to access the site and the tower building without apparent difficulty.

"It is clear the building owners and the relevant parts of the local authority were not aware of the scale of the trespass at the time.”

The court heard how four students, all of whom were trespassing and were unknown to Thomas, were at the site around the time he fell at 3.15pm in the afternoon.

Mr Dorries recorded a narrative conclusion, a factual statement which does not attribute the cause of a person's to an individual or an organisation.

Speaking after the inquest, members of Thomas’ family said they believed the building was in a ‘poor state of repair’ and more should have been done over the last six years to prevent people from accessing the building.

Thomas’ mum, Carmel, said: “I know that Thomas, along with many other students, was trespassing - but the point is he shouldn’t have been able to.”

A spokesman for the Blenheim Group, who have owned the Hallam Towers site since 2015, said after Thomas inquest: "The Blenheim Group as a company, but also as human beings and as parents wish to express their sadness at Thomas' death.

"They recognise the shattering effect such a loss would have on any family, and clearly has had on Thomas' family. They wish to pass on their sincere condolences to his friends and family."

Sheffield Coroners’ Court was also told how Thomas had suffered a ‘drug-induced’ psychosis, for which he was admitted to hospital for 10 days in the summer before he began a geography degree at the University of Sheffield in September 2016.

Thomas was considered to be well enough to begin university by medics treating him near to his home town of Melton Mowbury, Leicestershire, providing he received a continuing level of care in Sheffield.

Consultant psychiatrist at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust Dr Jonathan Mitchell said an internal investigation into Thomas’ care acknowledged there were a number of weaknesses in his care such as a lack of ‘face-to-face’ meetings and a failure to carry out a formal, written risk assessment with Thomas when he was placed under their care.

Dr Mitchell said that a number of changes, including the introduction of an immediate risk assessment document to be filled out for all new patients, had been made following Thomas' death.

However, he concluded that he did not believe the completion of such a document would have made a difference to the outcome, should it have been found that Thomas had taken his own life.

Thomas' sister, Kate, now aged 17, helped to 'distract' him while he was going through his period of psychosis, which began during a family holiday to France.

Speaking after the inquest, Kate said the family and Leicestershire mental health services looked after him 'so well' that she feels disappointed the level of care did not continue when he came to Sheffield and was mainly conducted over the phone.

Mr Dorries said that while evidence heard during the inquest led him to consider whether Thomas may have taken his own life, he ‘did not get near the level of proof required’ to return a conclusion of suicide.