Newcastle firm fined for putting students lives at risk

Newcastle firm fined for putting students lives at risk

A number of students living in a city centre flat in Newcatle have been at risk of death thanks to a number of fire safety violations and the complicit company has been fined thousands, the Chronicle has revealed.

John Naz, the company director of Passion Leisure Ltd, which runs Butler’s Bistro on Nun Street, let out the top two floors of the eatery’s building to four Newcastle University students in September 2011, Newcastle Magistrates’ Court heard.

However, concerns were raised when the inhabitants noticed that their gas bill was unreasonably high. It turned out they were footing the fuel costs for the entire building, rather than just the top two floors.

That was not the only alarm the investigation raised, as Newcastle City Council found there were a whole raft of serious fire breaches, which led it to quickly notify the local Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service.

One smoke detector had been taped over, fire doors were missing some seals, stairwell glazing was not properly fire proof and a hole in the ceiling would have caused potential danger acting as a chimney in the instance of a fire breaking out.

Furthermore, the prosecution revealed that Passion Leisure had not completed up-to-date fire assessments or carried out regular checks on detectors, fire doors and extinguishers.

The danger to the students was clear and they were quickly taken out of the building on Nun Street and provided alternative accommodation.

“Although the original complaint was related to high utility bills, additional concerns were raised by the environmental health officer,” said prosecutor Lynne Bennett.

“They were in relation to the commercial premises, as well as the residential section.

“Barry Marshall, watch manager at the time, was sent to the premises to carry out an inspection on February 21st [2012].”

She added that his concerns led a prohibition notice to be issued immediately, which is an action only taken in the most “extreme circumstances”.

Passion Leisure subsequently pleaded not guilty to a total of five charges related to non-compliance where there was risk of death or serious injury due to a fire. During the trial it was found to be guilty of three of the charges.

As a result, the firm was fined a total of £7,500, while it had to pay £4,890 in costs and a victim surcharge of £120.

The two charges it was not found guilty of were to do with the escape route safety and inter-linking alarms between the flat and the downstairs bistro.

“Passion Leisure had taken out a maintenance and service contract with Green King, which they had paid over £2,000 a year for. In relation to four out of five of the alleged offences, Mr Naz thought it fell to the responsibility of Green King,” said defendant Nick Cartmell.

“Regular testing and updating of the log book should have been undertaken by the manager at the time, Steven Bailey.

“Mr Naz assumed he was undertaking those duties as he didn’t have reason to believe he was not. With hindsight, he should have checked.”

The government stipulates that a landlord must ensure a property is safe to live in and free from any health hazards, which includes fire safety. This necessitates the individual to ensure gas equipment is installed safely, regular checks are carried out, furniture is fire safe and that alarms and extinguishers are provided (size of the property depending).

Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

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