Close call

The Oban Times - - FRONT PAGE - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­

AN OBAN pen­sioner es­caped in­jury when the ceil­ing of his bath­room col­lapsed mo­ments af­ter he left the room.

A HERO who won the Ge­orge Medal for brav­ery is too fright­ened to use his own bath­room, af­ter a leak­ing flat above caused the ceil­ing to col­lapse, nar­rowly miss­ing him.

And now the owner of the flat, Argyll Com­mu­nity Hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (ACHA), is re­fus­ing to fix the dam­age.

Sea­mas McNeill, a 73-year-old re­tired mas­ter in the Mer­chant Navy, helped save 37 lives in the Piper Al­pha disas­ter, which killed 167 peo­ple in 1988 af­ter a gas leak caused the oil plat­form to ex­plode.

Five times Mr McNeill’s boat went into the flames to res­cue sur­vivors, un­til it was blown out of the sea by an un­der­wa­ter gas ex­plo­sion and sank, ditch­ing the three crew into freez­ing wa­ter for 45 min­utes.

In 1991, the Queen awarded Mr McNeill (also known as James), Charles Haf­frey and An­drew Kiloh the sil­ver Ge­orge Medal, the UK’s sec­ond high­est civil­ian dec­o­ra­tion, for acts of great brav­ery.

Mr McNeill sur­vived the UK’s worst off­shore oil disas­ter, but he says a fall­ing bath­room ceil­ing nearly killed him on Tues­day last week, and he is now too scared even to take a bath in case other de­bris falls on him.

He told The Oban Times: ‘I had been brush­ing my teeth and had just stepped out [of the bath­room] when I heard a bang and the whole ceil­ing had come down. I got such a fright. I had just walked out the door. If I were un­der it, I would have been killed.

‘I am too scared to use the bath­room be­cause there is still stuff com­ing down. I wash my hair in the sink in the kitchen. I walk down the street to use the toi­let. I feel like I am not in my own house any more.’

The wid­ower, orig­i­nally from Barra, moved to the Glen­cruit­ten Drive flat 43 years ago, in 1974, with his wife Wilma, who died sud­denly last year.

His god­son no­ticed the drip­ping ceil­ing a fort­night ago, so Mr McNeill no­ti­fied the ACHA ten­ant above, who re­ported it to an emer­gency plumber and the as­so­ci­a­tion.

The plumber fixed the leak­ing toi­let in the ACHA flat above, and put a hole in Mr McNeill’s ceil­ing to drain the pool­ing wa­ter, and an ACHA in­spec­tor car­ried out a fol­low-up check.

Mr McNeill re­called: ‘The work­man kept say­ing, “It is al­right. It is fixed. It will dry out”. I said, “I do not think so”. I could see the bulge in it. Then a few days later the whole lot came down. I would have been badly hurt, be­cause there were big lumps.’

‘All I got from ACHA was, “It is noth­ing to do with us”,’ Mr McNeill said. ‘They would not even come out and look. They said to claim on my home in­sur­ance. But the leak came from their house. They said it was fixed. Why should I go through my home in­sur­ance for their mis­takes? They should ac­tu­ally fix ev­ery­thing here, be­cause it was their fault.’

ACHA chief ex­ec­u­tive Alas­tair MacGre­gor said: ‘On the evening of May 2, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s re­pairs con­trac­tor was called to at­tend an out-of-hours call re­gard­ing wa­ter ingress to a pri­vate owner’s flat be­low an ACHA flat. The is­sue was due to an over­flow­ing cis­tern due to a ball valve fail­ure and was rec­ti­fied at the time.

‘On May 3 a prop­erty in­spec­tor vis­ited our flat at Glen­cruit­ten Drive and looked at the prob­lem. He also vis­ited the pri­vate owner be­low to dis­cuss what had hap­pened, and dur­ing the visit he in­spected the ceil­ing which showed a bow.

‘Although the ceil­ing at the time was mis-shaped, it did feel sound and firm, and the pri­vate owner ad­vised that no wa­ter had come through the electrics, and there was no ev­i­dence of ly­ing wa­ter.

‘The pri­vate owner was ad­vised that the ceil­ing would not go back into shape and would need re­me­dial at­ten­tion and he would be bet­ter con­tact­ing his in­sur­ance re­gard­ing this.

‘The pri­vate owner in­formed the in­spec­tor that he did not want to make a claim against ACHA or his in­sur­ance com­pany.

‘How­ever, our in­spec­tor gave ad­vice that he should at least let his in­sur­ance com­pany know.

‘ACHA can work on com­mon parts of prop­er­ties shared with pri­vate own­ers but our in­surances do not al­low us to work on the in­ter­nals of pri­vate own­ers’ prop­er­ties.’

Sea­mas McNeill in his ru­ined bath­room where a large sec­tion of the ceil­ing col­lapsed.

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