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Hotel owner fined in landmark fire safety trial

Posted by Tracy Seward

A hotel owner has paid the price for ignoring fire safety laws and been hit with a £210,000 fine following a successful prosecution by London Fire Brigade. The case was a landmark hearing for the UK fire and rescue service, believed to be the first time that a jury – rather than magistrates or an individual judge – has convicted a defendant under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The Chumleigh Lodge Hotel Limited and its sole director Michael Wilson had pleaded not guilty to 12 offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The defendants were sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court on Monday (6 February).

The offences date back to 18 May 2008 when London Fire Brigade was called to a fire at the hotel on Nether Street, Finchley. The blaze had spread quickly from a first-floor guest bedroom, up a staircase to the floor above and along a corridor. Three people escaped from the fire, two by using the stairs and a third by climbing out of a second-floor window. Following the fire, London Fire Brigade fire safety inspectors visited the hotel and raised a number of serious fire safety concerns. These included defective fire doors, blocked escape routes and no smoke alarms in some of the hotel’s bedrooms. Mr Wilson was also unable to produce a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment and was found not to have provided staff with adequate fire safety training.

Chairman of London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority Cllr Brian Coleman AM FRSA said: “Business owners have a clear responsibility under fire safety law to ensure that both the public and their employees are as safe as possible from the risk of fire. This verdict sends out a clear message that if these responsibilities are ignored we will not hesitate in prosecuting and people will face serious penalties.”

Notes to editors:

• Mr Wilson was summoned to appear before magistrates for contraventions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The case was first heard at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court on 22 February 2010, when Mr Wilson pleaded not guilty to all matters. The case was later committed to Blackfriars Crown Court for trial, which took place between 28 November and 6 December 2011

• The fine was apportioned between the corporate defendant, Chumleigh Lodge Hotel Limited (£30,000) and the individual defendant, Michael Wilson (£180,000)

• The defendants were further ordered to pay prosecution costs of £50,000; and compensation of £2,000 (to a guest who had to escape the fire through a second-floor window).

• Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, employers or those who have control over a premise (known as the ‘responsible person’) are required by law to carry out a fire risk assessment and act on its findings. The risk assessment should also identify actions which need to be taken in order to protect the building from fire. It must be kept under constant review and amended if any changes are made to the premises.

• London Fire Brigade carries out around 16,000 fire inspections of premises each year and although the majority of buildings are managed well in regard to fire, there are still too many buildings that do not have an adequate fire risk assessment and as a result have fire exits blocked, inadequate fire alarms or poor training for staff. The Brigade can and does prosecute companies or individuals if there are breaches to fire legislation and though court action is a last resort, recent cases show that the courts will issue fines or even consider prison sentences for serious cases.

Source: http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/news/LatestNewsReleases_PR2940.asp

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