A disabled woman in a wheelchair has slammed Primark staff after she claims she was left stranded in the store during an emergency evacuation.
Alicia Thain, 21 – who has only been confined to a wheelchair for the past few weeks – said she was terrified after hearing the fire alarm go off while she was on the first floor.
Panicked customers quickly left the store in the Westgate Centre, Oxford, on Sunday afternoon.
But Alicia and mum Anna, 56, were stuck with staff while everyone else left down the escalators.
Anna said: “The alarms started going off and everyone carried on shopping, then a tannoy said the building needed to be evacuated, so staff started sending people down the escalators.
The Primark store in Westgate Centre, Oxford (Image: Oxford Mail / SWNS.com)
Alicia was unable to use the escalators or stairs (Image: Oxford Mail / SWNS.com)
“Obviously the escalators and lifts were shut down but people were being sensible getting out.
“The manager told us to get out, but I asked how he suggested we do that.
“Nobody had any idea how to get someone disabled out of the shop and we were just left there for 15 minutes.
“It was just lucky it wasn’t a real emergency.
“My daughter was only diagnosed with MS three weeks ago and is in a wheelchair – so for her it was a big deal.
“She was quite distressed.”
Alicia was shopping with her mum, Anna (R) (Image: Oxford Mail / SWNS.com)
Many evacuation plans include taking disabled patients to ‘safe points’ in the shop, while staff investigate if it is a real alarm.
But Alicia, who worked as a receptionist at Oxford Ice Rink before her diagnosis, said staff ‘did not know what to do’ and found the evacuation ‘frustrating’.
She added: “It panicked me, because staff did not know what to do.
“It is frustrating, especially as it’s new.
Alicia has only recently started using a wheelchair and said the incident terrified her (Image: Oxford Mail / SWNS.com)
“Staff were just wandering around looking at each other as the alarms were going off, some panicking themselves.”
Other shoppers also spoke out about the confusion, claiming there was ‘no explanation’ of what was happening and claiming the staff were ‘panicking’.
Lauren Tappin, 22, has complained to the store over how it was handled.
She said: “We looked around and the staff had already gone.
“They’d just bundled out the door, while customers were opening fire exits to get out.”
Westgate manager Brendan Hattam confirmed it was a partial evacuation of the centre, following the alarm being pressed by mistake.
Primark manager, Brendan Hattam, confirmed that the alarm led to a partial evacuation of the shopping centre after it was pressed by mistake (Image: Oxford Mail / SWNS.com)
He said he believed a sufficient number of staff responded.
Brendan said: “We continuously review our procedures and every incident – we will do so in this case.
“It was a minor incident and the procedure was followed exactly.
“There were plenty of staff around and they have had a lot of training.
“We had quite a few compliments from the public about how this was handled.”
Primark spokeswoman Elizabeth Kittle added: “We can confirm the Primark store was quickly evacuated in an orderly fashion and in line with standard safety procedures, which comply with fire safety legislation.
“We are satisfied that our employees acted in a calm and professional manner.
“All Primark employees receive comprehensive fire safety training and regular fire drills are conducted in stores.
“In the event of any fire alarm, disabled customers are accompanied by nominated employees throughout the evacuation process and are supported in any way possible – this was the case at our Westgate store.”