NEWS

Six companies charged with fire safety offences for blaze which destroyed Cheshire retirement village

In a highly complex case, six companies have been charged with offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 following a fire which destroyed a retirement village in 2019, as Ron Alalouff reports.

 

The fire at Beechmere retirement complex in 2019 (Credit: Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service)

More than 150 residents lost their homes and possessions in the August 2019 fire at Beechmere retirement village in Crewe, one of the biggest ever incidents attended by Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service.

As a result of what it describes as a “long and complex” investigation, the fire service has charged six companies with various offences under the legislation. The companies being prosecuted are:

  • Advantage (Cheshire) Ltd: Contracted to procure the design, build and finance of Beechmere and the operation of the village (Advantage is a subsidiary of Your Housing Ltd)
  • Your Housing Ltd: Employed staff at the retirement village and as such, was the responsible person for fire safety measures, as defined by Article 3(a) of the Fire Safety Order 2005
  • Morgan Sindall Property Services Ltd: The facilities management subcontractor to Advantage, with responsibility for responsive repairs and cyclical maintenance
  • WSP UK Ltd: Contracted to produce a detailed fire strategy in 2007, and in 2008 produce an operational fire safety manual and carry out a fire risk assessment of Beechmere.
  • Total Fire Group Ltd: Contracted to carry out fire risk assessments in August 2017 and August 2018 at both Beechmere and Hazelmere retirement villages
  • MAC Roofing and Contractors Ltd: Contracted by Morgan Sindall Property Services to undertake roofing works at Beechmere between 6 and 8 August 2019

Editor’s note: Further details of the exact charges against each company can be found on Cheshire Fire & Rescue Services website, here >>


“Since 2019, the service has worked tirelessly to investigate the cause of the fire and establish any potential breaches of fire safety legislation,” said a spokesperson for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. “This has been a long and complex process owing to the scale of the fire and the number of parties involved in designing, building, maintaining and managing the building.”

A number of charges for breaches of the legislation have also been brought in connection with another retirement village – Hazelmere in Winsford – which were discovered during the investigation at Beechmere. Work to rectify these issues has already been carried out at Hazelmere and at other retirement complexes that were built to the same design specification and managed by Your Housing.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said it is “satisfied” that fire risk in these properties is now “appropriately managed”.

Additional £40 million civil case charges

In a separate £40 million civil action following the fire at Beechmere, proceedings have been brought by the freeholder of the village, Cheshire East Borough Council, the PFI contractor, Advantage, and the leaseholder of the property, Your Housing against those involved in the design and construction of the retirement village.

They are PRP Architects Holdings Ltd, fire safety engineers WSP UK Ltd, structural contractors Prestoplan Ltd, clerk of works Mascot Management Ltd, and GB Solutions Ltd. GB Solutions is a former subsidiary of Gleeson and was dissolved in 2018 before the fire. Gleeson has no active role in the court proceedings.

The three claimants are seeking damages of £40 million for “alleged deficiencies in the design and construction of the property – including the absence of compartmentation, cavity barriers and sprinklers – resulting in a failure to inhibit the spread of fire.” The court case has now been postponed until April 2024 after efforts to resolve the dispute fell through.

A Cheshire East Council spokesperson said: “Aviva PLC is pursuing a claim on behalf of Cheshire East Council, following the fire at the Beechmere care complex in August 2019.

Whilst litigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

 

Building owners could face unlimited fines following new measures being brought in to strengthen fire safety, the Home Office has announced today. As part of the government’s work to ensure people are safe in their homes, these limitless fines will be handed out to anyone caught obstructing or impersonating a fire inspector as well as to those who breach fire safety regulations under the Fire Safety Order. These new measures, announced as part of the government’s response to the Fire Safety Consultation, will come into force as part of the legislation in the Building Safety Bill. The measures will amend the Fire Safety Order and will include a requirement for fire risk assessments to be recorded for each building and improve how fire safety information is handed over throughout the lifetime of a building. The Home Office have also announced a further cash boost of £10 million for Fire and Rescue Authorities across England, on top of the £6 million already announced in the Fire Covid-19 Contingency Fund. This will help with additional tasks related to managing the pandemic – such as driving ambulances and assisting at testing and vaccination centres. Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh said: Everyone should be safe in the buildings where they live, stay or work. Our new measures will improve fire safety and help save lives, but will also take firm action against those who fail in their duty to keep people safe. Our incredible Fire and Rescue Services have played a crucial role in our response to the pandemic, from assisting at vaccination centres to driving ambulances. That is why we are giving them this cash boost, so they can continue their life-saving efforts. Roy Wilsher, National Fire Chiefs Council Chair, said: The NFCC welcomes the extra funding to support Covid activities carried out by fire and rescue services across England. Firefighters are responsible for administering around 1 in 240 vaccinations to the public. We also welcome the government’s response to its own fire safety consultation and the continued investment in fire and rescue services protection work. Ultimately, we want to see safer buildings for residents and are committed to working constructively with the Home Office and other partners on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations and other key fire safety policy areas. The new measures announced today will: improve the quality of fire risk assessments and competence of those who complete them ensure vital fire safety information is preserved over the lifespan of all regulated buildings improve cooperation and coordination amongst people responsible for fire safety and making it easier to identify who they are strengthen enforcement action, with anyone impersonating or obstructing a fire inspector facing unlimited fines strengthen guidance issued under the Fire Safety Order so that failure to follow it may be considered in court proceedings as evidence of a breach or of compliance improve the engagement between Building Control Bodies and Fire Authorities in reviewing plans for building work require all new flats above 11 metres tall to install premises information boxes The Fire Safety Consultation took place last year to inform government work on improving fire safety. The government received feedback from over 250 stakeholders with an interest in building and fire safety, including residents, Responsible Persons and enforcing authorities, which we have used to inform our response. The government intends to launch a further consultation on personal emergency evacuation plans this spring to seek additional views on implementing the relevant Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations. The Home Office intends, subject to the Fire Safety Bill receiving Royal Assent, to lay regulations before the second anniversary of the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 Report which will deliver on the Inquiry’s recommendations. The Fire Safety Bill clarifies that the scope of the Fire Safety Order (FSO) and changes to the FSO outline above will be delivered through it. The Building Safety Bill will create the first national Building Safety Regulator and overhaul the way buildings in scope of the new regime are designed, built and managed when occupied.

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PROSECUTIONS - October 2020

A Fire Risk Assessor has been fined a total of £1,600 after being charged with four counts of breaching fire safety regulations.

Mr Martin Ballard, a former employee of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, failed to identify serious fire safety issues with his fire risk assessment at St Clements Court, Leicester. Mr Ballard retired from Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service before becoming a self-employed Fire Risk Assessor.

He appeared at Leicester Crown Court on Monday 19 October and Tuesday 20 October 2020. He was fined £1600, and ordered to pay costs of £7,864.15.

Andy Clarke, Station Manager Fire Protection, said: “These failings had the potential to put the lives of residents in this premises at risk of death or serious injury.

“Fire risk assessments play a pivotal part in determining the fire safety measures and fire safety strategy for any building, and is a task that only people with suitable training and experience should undertake.”

Although Mr Ballard had served within the fire and rescue service for more than 30 years, he had no formal training in providing fire risk assessments and had very limited experience.

Andy Clarke added: “This sentence should act as a warning to all Fire Risk Assessors, that Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service will take these matters extremely seriously.

“We will not hesitate to take action where inadequate fire risk assessments put people at risk.

“Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service are prepared to work with those responsible for fire safety, to help them achieve compliance with fire safety standards.”

If you require any help or guidance around fire safety, please contact Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service on 0116 210 5555. Alternatively, visit leics-fire.gov.uk for fire safety advice.

 

 

 

 

Restaurant owner fined for flouting fire safety laws 23rd March 2015 . Overview of incident , A Chinese restaurant owner has been ordered to pay more than £4,000 for flouting fire safety laws and putting lives at risk. A fire involving electrical items, magazines along with a suitcase started in a second floor bedroom above a Chinese restaurant. The incident prompted Hampshire fire safety officers to undertake a fire safety inspection of the premises. The inspection identified that no fire alarm system was installed and no fire risk assessments had been conducted. The restaurant owner was served a prohibition noticed. The court heard that the standards in the premises fell well below what is required by legislation. The fire was aggravated by the numerous risks including electrical extension cables overloaded and a non maintained extraction system. Details of fine The restaurant owner pleaded guilty to multiple breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and was fined £1,200 for each offence. The fire service was awarded full costs of £1,963. The defendant was also requested to pay a £120 community surcharge. The total penalty was £4,483. Injured Person(s) N/A Company Involved Mr Jia Wu of the Goldren Dragon Location Totton, Hampshire, England Court West Hampshire Magistrates Court Quotes We work closely with businesses to help them with their duty to comply with fire safety law, ensuring the safety of our community and making Hampshire safer, but where their responsibilities are not taken seriously, the Service will always consider prosecution. We would like this case to act as a timely reminder to business owners throughout Hampshire that the Fire Safety Order is in place. The safety of the public is our primary concern. Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service will continue to utilise all the powers available to us in enforcing fire safety legislation. – Head of Community Safety, Steve Foye

A Paignton hotel owner has been given a suspended prison sentence after “hair-raising” fire safety defects were found within the premises. David Schofield, owner of the Park Hotel on the Esplanade in Paignton, was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, at Exeter Crown Court on 25 June. He had previously pleaded guilty to seven offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. In summing up prior to sentencing, Judge Wassell said: “I need to send a very serious message to hotel owners. The failures at this hotel were a potential tragedy in waiting. The number of defects was just hair-raising. “To receive complaints from guests, some heard a fire alarm some did not, that 28 fire doors had failed to close properly, that 10 were not even fire doors. Furthermore, there were dangerous electrics, that there were elderly people staying at the hotel and exit doors were wedged shut. There were a catalogue of dangerous findings at the hotel and the fire service was quite right in closing it down. “Anyone running a hotel in this dangerous condition needs to know the seriousness with which these matters are taken and with that only a custodial sentence will do. In terms of failings it is difficult to imagine one worse. “I would like to compliment the fire service on the case that they have brought, the evidence and how the case was put forward.” The offences related to failures of the fire safety standards at the Park Hotel in 2014, including: • Not having an adequate working fire alarm system • A large number of the fire doors in the premises not meeting the required standard • Large amounts of flammable materials stored throughout the hotel • Breaks in the fire separation between areas in the premises • Poor planning in case of an emergency • Inadequate means of escape in case of fire and poor standards of maintenance. Station Manager Glen Wells, Fire Protection Officer for Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, said: “I have inspected hundreds of hotels over the last 29 years and the Park Hotel in Paignton has to be among one of the worst for the sheer number of things that were wrong regarding fire safety matters at the premises. “Had there been a fire there the residents and staff would have been at very serious risk of death or injury as a result of the poor fire safety standards.” Station Manager Wells added: “Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service is committed to ensuring that hotels and guest houses in both counties meet the required standards of the fire safety legislation, and people that use them are quickly made aware of any fire and can safely evacuate. “Where premises fail to meet these standards and those failures place people at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire then the Service will take necessary action against the people responsible.” Schofield had stated at a previous hearing that the offences were not deliberate and that he did his best regarding the hotel. Judge Wassell added that, had Schofield not had good character and no previous convictions, he would have been sentenced to 16 months in prison. Schofield was also ordered to pay the full costs of £9,274.

 

 

27 NOVEMBER 2018 FIRE RISK ASSESSMENT The owner of a hotel has been given a prison sentence and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs for an array of fire safety breaches at his Nottingham hotel. Mahmood Hussain pleaded guilty at Nottingham Crown Court to five offences relating to his premises, A1 Hotel in Sherwood, Nottingham. Passing sentence, Judge MacAdam said that Mr Hussain has shown a wilful disregard for fire safety laws and continued to profit whilst placing hotel residents at risk. The judge went on to say that an immediate custodial sentence was necessary as, "The message must go out - fire kills," and because Mr Hussain had been given, "so many warnings on so many occasions." The breaches covered the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and included failure to comply with an enforcement notice at his site. Other offences Mr Hussain was charged with included failure to undertake a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment, failure to provide and maintain adequate escape routes from the hotel, failure to make appropriate fire safety arrangements, and the failure to routinely maintain the fire alarm and emergency lighting systems. Andy Kelly, head of fire protection for Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "We welcome and support the comments of Judge MacAdam. "Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service does and will always seek to work with and support business owners to make sure that they keep their premises, guests and employees safe. "However, staff, members of the public and visitors using premises within Nottingham and Nottinghamshire should feel reassured that they can do so safely. "We hope that sentences such as these confirm to the public that we do take fire safety matters very seriously and that we are committed to creating safer communities for us all to enjoy."

 

 

Two landlords have been ordered to pay more than £30,000 for breaching fire safety and over-occupancy licence conditions at their House of Multiple Occupation. Barnet council officers discovered that the home in Golders Green, north London, had no fire alarm or emergency lighting systems during a routine inspection. They found that six people were living at the address, which was only licenced to house five people. Landlords Mark Goldsmith and lian Hatuka were prosecuted by the council. They were found guilty of failing without reasonable excuse to comply with their licence conditions and were ordered to pay £15,420 each, including the council’s costs. Councillor Gabriel Rozenberg, chairman of the council’s housing committee, says: “All too often landlords think that their legal obligations are met when they submit their HMO licence application. However, all licences have conditions that landlords are legally obliged to comply with to ensure the safety of their tenants. I am delighted that the courts support our approach to driving up housing standards for tenants.”

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

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