Belfast Telegraph

Teens trapped inside family attraction

By Noel McAdam

Two teenagers were trapped at one of Northern Ireland's main family attractions after it locked up for the night, it has been revealed.

The youths were still inside the ecos centre near Ballymena despite regular checks and close-up procedures being followed.

But one of the stranded boys had a mobile phone and - after a call from police - staff then returned to release them.

And by the time they turned up, one of their parents was already waiting at the centre.

Now a report into the incident, in June, says the centre should consider installing a public address system to ensure the episode is never repeated.

It is the first time in the 11 years the centre has been opened that anyone has been left within after closedown.

But the 'lock-in' happened on the 'island' section of the centre, where the council has been warned many areas remain hidden.

Sean Trainor, economic and tourism development officer with Ballymoney council, said: "Certainly, if one of the teenagers had not had a mobile phone we would be dealing with a different type of incident.

"But the council is taking this very seriously.

"They had managed to make their way into the island section of the centre even though there are signs up saying what time it closes.

"It was quite a unique thing to have happened here and, although the council is now in recess, members will be considering what action to take to prevent a recurrence. It may also involve having to bring in extra staff."

The close-in has been reported to the PSNI and a preliminary study carried out by the development, leisure and cultural services department of the borough council.

Assistant director Aidan Donnelly said normally two ecos staff members are present in case an emergency evacuation of the centre is necessary.

"(It is also) to ensure that when locking the front gates and the gates at the bottom of the driveway, no member of staff is working alone."

However, when a late meeting is being held by one of the centre's resident organisations, only one ecos staffer is required with another being provided by the tenant group.

On June 23 officials from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) were holding a meeting which ran until nearly 9pm and when all those involved left their offices, the duty manager and DARD representative locked the front gates, and raised the drawbridge.

"The rest of the closedown procedure (including setting the intruder alarm and checking the public car park) was then carried out," the report said.

"The ecos centre has been opened for 11 years and this type of incident has never occurred before. Whilst whoever is clearing the island strives to ensure that the island is clear of the general public, there are so many areas that remain 'hidden'.

"The island check for an evening booking becomes even more difficult in the winter months when it is dark as there is no lighting around the island."

Background

The ecos centre currently attracts around 27,000 visitors a year. But numbers are down from the peak years which saw up to 38,000 people visiting. Apart from 'the island' area which has a number of interactive galleries, it includes a business conference centre and meeting rooms. The centre was one of Northern Ireland's Millenium projects, but now a draft strategy is being drawn up to sustain the centre into the future.

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