Fire Service will prosecute businesses breaching safety orders following Broadway House incident

Broadway House, Bedford
Broadway House, Bedford

Business owners are warned that the fire service won’t hesitate to use legal enforcement powers, including prosecution, if fire safety orders are not complied with and people are put at risk.

The prosecution of a Bedford landlord for non-compliance of fire regulations was explained to the Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Authority at a meeting last week (24 March).

Area Commander Ian Evans, head of prevention & protection at Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service told the Authority that following an earlier guilty plea to four offences, sentencing was carried out on 18 March.

“A fine was issued of £10,000 per offence,” he said.

“So a total of £40,000 in fines, and the Fire and Rescue Service was awarded full costs recovery, which was also just over £10,000,” he said.

The property involved was Broadway House, Bedford, a multiple occupancy office building of four floors.

“The four offences we identified as part of a routine audit of the premises,” he said.

“The fire risk assessment hadn’t been reviewed since 2015, the fire warning system was inadequate so that those in the building wouldn’t have received warning in the event of a fire.

“The external escape was severely compromised.”

Area Commander Evans shared a picture of the external fire escape with broken steps with the members.

“I’ll leave it to members to imagine what might have happened if, during hours of darkness, someone tried to use that external escape,” he said.

“We first visited the premises and asked for the work to be done in 2019, and as yet they have still not actually addressed this external staircase.

“So, it’s a fairly flagrant breach of the fire safety order, and despite having been given opportunities to put matters right, no action was taken, and obviously the magistrate took that into account,” he said.

The meeting was told that this involved a considerable amount of work from the fire safety team in bringing a prosecution and over 300 hours of work to get it through the court system.

“But all in all, it represents a good result for the Fire and Rescue Service, and a good result for the communities of Bedfordshire.

“Whilst we will look to support the business community in complying with the fire safety order, if there are serious breaches and people fail to take action to rectify them, then we won’t hesitate to use the legal enforcement powers, including prosecution,” he said.

Councillor Jacqui Burnett (Luton Borough Council) asked: “If anything was to happen resulting in a fire and somebody losing their life because the staircase had not been rectified, who would be liable legally?

“It’s the responsible person for the premises who has responsibility,” Area Commander Evans said.

He added that while this premises poses a serious risk, it doesn’t meet the threshold for the issue of a prohibition notice.

Councillor Burnett said: “What would the risk factor have to be for it to reach that threshold?”

“A prohibition notice can be issued where we’re of the opinion that the risk in case of fire is so serious that you ought to be prohibited or restricted,” Area Commander Evans said.

“That effectively the means of escape from the premises is so compromised that there’s a likelihood of death or serious injury in the event of a fire.

“So there are a range of factors that we have to consider for a prohibition notice to be issued,” he said.

Councillor David Franks (Luton Borough Council) asked about the processes for getting the faults rectified.

“Clearly it’s the responsibility of the landlord, but if they don’t do it, where do you go from there?

“Is there a provision for some intervention by the local authority or fire authority to do it by default and then recharge them,” he asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Area Commander Evans replied.

“Our legal powers to require works to be done is through the issue of an enforcement notice, which is a legal notice requiring actions to be taken.

“An enforcement notice was issued and was not complied with, that then followed that we instigated the prosecution.

“The prosecution does not take the enforcement notice out of force, the  enforcement action continues, and so they are the processes.

“In terms of the action we are taking, we have considered all of our enforcement options and we have considered whether or not it’s appropriate to issue a prohibition notice on the premises.

“And our opinion is is that it does not meet the threshold for the issue of a prohibition notice.”

Councillor Franks asked where do you go if a landlord just continues to ignore the enforcement.

“The responsible person, obviously would would face increasingly significant enforcement from the court which includes that they can be jailed,” Area Commander Evans replied.

In a statement, BFRS said The owner Mrs J Lusty, and Mr D Lusty (the Responsible Person for fire safety matters), were given a notice of deficiencies letter in June 2019 and two months’ notice to rectify the issues.

Mr Lusty indicated that he would address the issues, but a subsequent inspection in October 2019 failed to show any significant improvement.

A further visit was undertaken by BFRS in February 2020 and as no action had been taken, an Enforcement Notice was served on Mrs J Lusty as the owner.

The owner was given three months to address the issues.

BFRS added that a follow-up inspection showed that whilst new firefighting equipment had been provided; all other actions detailed in the notice had not been addressed.

These failings in fire safety measures placed one or more persons at risk of serious injury or death should a fire occur, and prosecution proceedings were instigated.

By John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter

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