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    FIRMS FINED HEAVILY OVER STUDENT FIRE RISK

    Senior fire officers found “blatant disregard” for law and resident safety

    Fines totalling £670,000 have been imposed over ‘potentially catastrophic’ fire safety failings at Leeds student flats in September 2016.

    Leeds Crown Court heard how Trinity Halls on Woodhouse Street had only one available fire escape which was compromised due to combustible materials, putting 27 students at serious risk.

    The court heard the students had moved into the building on the upper ground floor while other floors were still under construction. There were a string of other failures which contributed to the significant risk including lack of appropriate fire alarms and detection, exposed timber framing, the storage of flammable items on stairwells and no markings indicating fire escape routes.

    Lack of alarms and detection

    The court heard that a lack of fire alarms and detection within the building meant that in the event of a fire, students would not have had early warning to evacuate the building and upon evacuation, some students would have had to travel 35m to the nearest fire escape, almost double the recommended limit of 18m.

    Judge Mairs described the situation as having the “potential for catastrophe.”

    The failings came to light in September 2016 after a concerned father called West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) to report the building. He had been dropping his daughter off to live there, but became concerned by the state of the premises and would not let his daughter stay.

    WYFRS inspectors attended the building and discovered breaches in legislation. Inspectors issued a prohibition order meaning students had to vacate the property.

    • Trinity Developments Ltd – the owners of the building, admitted four safety breaches of failing to: make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment; take precautions to make sure the premises were safe from risk of fire;  provide appropriate fire detection and alarm system and provide an adequate number of fire escape routes and exits. The defendant was fined £160,000.
    • Niche Homes Ltd – contracted to manage and let the property, also admitted the same four breaches and were fined £60,000.
    • APP Construction Ltd – who were contracted to design and build the property, admitted one charge of failing to provide an adequate number of fire escape routes and exits and were fined £450,000.

    The companies were all offered credit in court for their early guilty pleas. Acceptable safety measures are now in place at the building.

    High culpability for obvious risks

    Judge Mairs said that all the companies had “high culpability” and that “the risks were so obvious that a member of the public spotted them – so they should have been obvious to the companies involved.”

    Following the sentencing Chris Kemp, Senior Fire Protection Manager for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said:

    “This case demonstrates the importance those responsible for building construction, development and occupation have in understanding their duties and acting responsibly to take account of the safety of the people they are responsible for.

    As Judge Mairs highlighted, the dangers and risks found at Trinity Halls were so obvious anyone without a technical fire safety background could identify them. The conditions that were found on site were such that some of our senior officers have not seen such blatant disregard for the law and the safety of residents in 28 years.”

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