THE former head of sound at London’s Apollo Theatre has slammed Wiltshire Council for not repairing Salisbury’s City Hall more than five years after a piece of the ceiling fell in.

It comes after months of debate around the future of the Salisbury venue, with 1,500 people signing an online petition calling for it to be reopened.

Sam Charleston, who is now a Salisbury city councillor, was at the Apollo in December 2013 when the ceiling there collapsed, injuring 76 people.

Seven people were seriously injured during the incident, which happened during a production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Wiltshire Council officers have subsequently said that the City Hall ceiling is the same type as that which collapsed at the Apollo Theatre.

A piece roughly the size of a dinner plate fell in at the Salisbury venue in December 2018 - no one was injured.

In an exclusive interview with the Journal, Sam said: "If the council wished to avoid an incident like the one I experienced at the Apollo, then that was the time when it should have been repaired under the Council’s routine maintenance programme - not after five years of further deterioration. 

"I am assuming, of course, that Wiltshire Council has a routine maintenance programme in place for Salisbury City Hall to deal with these issues."

Sam says he is has been "deeply affected for a number of years" by the disaster at his place of work. 

He added: "If Cllr Clewer wants to use the disaster at the Apollo as a reason to not re-open City Hall, he needs to answer some serious questions about why the ceiling has been left in such a state for so long." 

Salisbury Journal: Cllr Richard ClewerCllr Richard Clewer (Image: Newsquest)

Councillor Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council, said: “It’s important to be clear that we have not said the Apollo Theatre ceiling collapse was caused by an acoustic event nor have we linked it to the ongoing issues at City Hall. However, following that incident in 2013 a year long-investigation took place by the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) and they published guidance on how to inspect, certify and record the condition of suspended fibrous plaster ceilings. Given the ceiling at City Hall is the same as that at the Apollo this guidance has helped inform our decision making. We commissioned a report in July 2019 in line with ABTT Guidance Note 20 and this provided a recommendation that further survey work should be carried out to identify the full prognosis of specific defects that were identified in the ceiling at City Hall.

“Reviewing these recommendations, we then commissioned a more in-depth survey of the auditorium ceiling itself. This had to be carried out around day-to-day operations at City Hall and was also delayed by the pandemic. Following this, the surveyor’s instruction to us was to keep acoustic stress to an absolute minimum until further investigations had been undertaken. This would not have been an issue of concern while the venue was being used as a vaccination centre.

“Our most recent condition survey highlighted circa £2m of works to return the building to a safe and operational state. This figure includes a provisional amount for further investigation and potential remedial works to the fibrous plaster ceiling in the Auditorium.  The condition of this ceiling is a known problem requiring further invasive surveys to fully assess the risk.

“We have not used the Apollo incident as any sort of excuse to not reopen City Hall, we are carrying out the necessary due diligence and following expert advice and guidance so we can make the best informed decisions going forward. We think this precautionary approach is entirely sensible.

“Prior to the pandemic the venue had annually made a loss so we are now focused on working up plans on the future of City Hall as an entertainment venue that represents best value for money for tax payers and gives it the best opportunity to thrive for the long-term. We’ll keep people updated as this work continues.”