Fire service successful in prosecution against company following insufficient fire risk assessment

Risking the lives of occupants at a Southampton residential block has seen company director Charles Morgan fined and on the receiving end of a suspended prison sentence, after he pleaded guilty to providing a fire risk assessment that was not suitable or sufficient.

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Published

04/06/2021 2:09pm

Author

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service

Following the hearing at Southampton Crown Court on 1 June, the company providing the fire risk assessment for Cranleigh House, UK Fire Consulting Ltd (of which Mr Morgan is a Director), was fined £20,000 and costs of £19,952 for the same offence.

The managing agent for the premises, Denfords Property Management had pleaded guilty at an earlier magistrates’ court hearing, of a failure to comply with an enforcement notice to provide a suitable fire risk assessment. They were fined £10,000 with £6,000 costs and the individual manager specifically responsible for the premises was given a conditional discharge and £1,800 costs.

As well as a £2,750 fine and a three-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months, Mr Morgan was ordered to pay costs of £19,952.

Prosecuting on behalf of the Fire Authority, Klentiana Mahmataj stated that Mr Morgan had not lifted ceiling tiles or even opened riser cupboard doors to check for fire safety risks at the three-storey block of fully occupied flats in Southampton.

During a visit to the block a Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service Fire Safety Inspector discovered electrical wiring penetrating the compartment walls.

Compartmentation is critical in a residential property with a ‘stay put’ policy, and at Cranleigh House there was also no apparent fire stopping added to holes in the walls, meaning that smoke or fire could travel into the communal escape routes to other parts of the building.

His Honour, Judge Burrell QC said:

“The job of a fire risk assessor is a highly responsible one. Lives are in their hands and their judgement is crucial. It is not a job to be taken lightly.

“It is important to hold risk assessors to account and these are serious breaches. I find it odd that there exists no regulatory framework in regard to Fire Risk Assessors.”

Station Manager Dave Clements joined His Honour, Judge Burrell QC, in commending the HIWFRS Enforcement Support Team for their resilience and professionalism in bringing such a robust case that sent a clear message to those responsible for providing the fire safety of the residents of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

The Fire Safety Order places the onus on the Responsible Person to comply with the legislation. However, in this case, the managing agents for the Premises had placed their trust in the professionalism and competency of UKFC Ltd to complete the fire risk assessment to a satisfactory standard.

Speaking after the case Deputy Chief Fire Officer Steve Apter said:

“Fire risk assessments underpin the whole process of building fire safety. Mr Morgan failed to inspect and identify fire safety deficiencies within the building and failed to note a compromised alarm and evacuation strategy for the residents. This shortfall meant that those responsible for implementing fire safety measures were unable to fulfil their legal obligations and placed occupants at risk of death or serious injury had a fire occurred. 

“Mr Morgan elected to go to trial in the crown court and his legal team, Warren Spencer of Blackhurst Budd, submitted an abuse of process defence resulting in significant extra work for the prosecution team, extra legal argument hearings and resulting in additional costs to the public purse.

“We were confident that the case passed the evidential threshold and following the Judge’s comments that the abuse of process argument was “without merit”, it was pleasing that the Fire Authority’s cost application was met in full.”

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