AN area of Meadowbank Sports Centre has been screened off from public view after concerns about perverts taking pictures of children.
Stadium bosses have admitted fitting opaque glass to a viewing gallery to stop members of the public being able to see the area, used for youngsters’ gym classes.
The decision to obscure the windows was taken after reports of someone taking pictures through the glass, with bosses saying they were trying to adhere to child protection laws.
But the move has been met with fury by parents, who branded the decision “child protection gone mad”, while an MSP called for “common sense” and referred to the decision as “an over-reaction”.
One mum-of-two contacted the Evening News to say she will not be returning to Meadowbank after being stopped from watching her own child during a gymnastics class.
Fiona Sloane, 41, has been taking three-year-old John-James, also known as JJ, to the Wednesday morning Gym Nippers class for over a year now, despite other facilities being nearer to her home, because she enjoys being able to watch her son taking part.
However, on arrival at yesterday’s class Ms Sloane was angered to discover the view from the cafe area has now been blocked off.
She said: “All the parents there were furious. We always meet in the cafe to have a cup of tea and watch the kids, and couldn’t believe it today when we saw all the windows had been whited out.
“My husband asked the other parents what had happened and apparently there had been reports of someone taking pictures through the glass. I’ve taken pictures of JJ on occasion, so it’s possible these reports were about me!
“I can also tell you that it’s actually very difficult to get a good picture through that glass – if someone wanted to get a photo of a child it would be far easier to get one in the corridor, for example.”
Ms Sloane, who is a designer at Scotland’s Gardens and also has a six-month-old daughter, Caitlin, added: “Where does it end? If their line of reasoning is that no-one should be allowed to view the children, I am sure the next step will be to cordon off the soft play with opaque screens and black out the windows to the track. After all, there may be children there, too. It does seem a bit like child protection gone mad.”
The facilities at Meadowbank are accessible to members, leisure card holders and casual users. The measures taken at the centre are believed to be unique within the city, as no other Edinburgh Leisure facility has a similar set-up where the public can view classes taking place.
Edinburgh Leisure director of operations Graeme Gardiner said: “Following concerns from some participants of gymnastics club sessions at Meadowbank Sports Centre, we have blackened out the glass in the cafe area overlooking the gymnastics hall. These measures have been taken in accordance with our child protection policy and with the health and safety of all our customers in mind.” He added: “There are no other Gym Nippers classes where parents have been able to watch their children take part.”
Campbell Bell, manager of CHILDREN 1ST’s Safeguarding in Sport service, said any risk to the safety of children had to be taken seriously.
“We work closely with a number of local authorities and our advice is that they should regularly assess the risks posed to children using their facilities.
“We understand that parents enjoy watching their children train and perform.
“Sometimes, there can be an overcautious approach to photography which can get in the way of parents being able to record their child’s activities and achievements.
“However, they have had some concerns raised and they are best placed to make decisions on their own facilities.”
Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP Gavin Brown said the decision was perhaps going too far and needed to be properly explained to parents.
“On the face of it this seems like a bit of an over-reaction,” he said.
“I would call on Edinburgh Leisure to explain clearly and publicly the decision it has taken and the reasons for doing so.
“For example, if there is a concern regarding a specific individual taking a photograph could they not simply be asked to stop or, if the staff felt it necessary, to leave?
“That said, whenever there is a parent taking a photograph of their child in a public place, surely some degree of common sense should be applied to the situation.”