Wanstead petition launched after gran gets trampled in Westfield fire evacuation
PUBLISHED: 12:45 17 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:11 17 November 2017
A Wanstead woman is calling on Westfield Stratford City to have a robust evacuation plan after her 70-year-old mother was injured in a stampede of “mass panic” when thousands of people “ran for their lives” during a fire alarm.
Sarah Caulfield, 43, of Cambridge Road, said when the shopping centre was evacuated on Saturday (November 11) it was “total chaos” and her young children got separated from their grandparents.
She has launched a petition asking the management to review their procedures and in 36 hours almost 350 have signed it.
“I’m not a campaigner, I’m a stay at home mum but I need to stand up and use my voice,” she told the Recorder.
“It is not just about what happened to my family but about everyone - Christmas is around the corner and it must be a terror attack target.
“They need long-term plans in place - it was total chaos.”
Sarah’s mum, Janet Gregory, was eating dinner with her grandchildren and husband when staff told her that a fire alarm had gone off and she needed to get out of the building.
Janet said the alarm was faint, and as she headed for the exit, other people continued shopping and were unaware.
Suddenly she heard a shout and in a matter of seconds, the shopping centre was transformed into a scene of mass panic.
“I thought I heard someone scream and the next thing I know I cracked my head and landed on my back,” Janet said.
“I was knocked flat down, lying on the floor and all these people trampling across me.
“I felt a dripping across my face.”
Her two grandaughters ran off and her husband was torn between picking up his wife and chasing after the girls, aged five and eight.
After he helped Janet up, the pair desperately tried to locate the children among the thousands of people trying to exit the building.
“It was pure luck we saw them run into a shop,” Janet said.
“They are too young to have a mobile phone, so we couldn’t contact them.
“The shop started to lock its doors so we banged on the window to get in.”
Someone on a walkie-talkie in the shop cleared the family to leave through the back exit, but Janet said that shoppers were not given enough information about what was going on which exacerbated the situation.
“If people knew what it was we wouldn’t have panicked,” she said.
“The children are traumatized they thought I was going to die and they thought it was their fault because they wanted to eat dinner there.
“You can’t funnel lots of people through a small exit, there need to be bigger signs so when you have a few seconds to react to something you know what to do.”
Janet and Sarah are urging people to not only sign the petition but write to the management if they were caught up in the incident.
Through social media, they have been contacted by lots of shoppers who had a similar experience.
“I am so proud of my daughter for starting this petition,” added Janet.
“If I had cracked my head lower I would have been killed.
“I went down with such force if the children hadn’t run they would have been trampled - we saw no staff, no security there.”
A Westfield spokeswoman said that safety is their number one priority for customers, retailers, and employees and they have robust safety procedures in place.
“On Saturday evening, there was a small fire within a retailer’s store which caused an evacuation of part of the mall,” she said. “Westfield understands that any evacuation can cause concern and that our centre and security teams worked closely with the various emergency services to manage this situation.
“Following any incident, we review our protocols and processes and listen to all relevant stakeholders, including our customers. “We have been in contact with the family and would welcome an opportunity to explain how evacuations are dealt with by the centre and to listen to their views.”