‘Death trap’ guest house lands owner with £250,000 fine

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A guest house owner who removed the staircase from his property has been fined £250,000 fine and given a six-month suspended prison sentence.

Fire officers described the ‘City View Guest House’ on Cambridge Heath Road, London, as a ‘potential death trap.’

Mehmood Butt was converting the building into guest house accommodation from a house of multiple occupation. This involved removing the internal staircase to put in a lift and fitting an open external staircase to the rear of the property which would provide the only emergency means of escape.

The work continued despite a building regulations application for the refurbishment being turned down by the local council because of safety concerns.

Following a visit to the site by building inspectors in March 2014, the fire safety officers visited the premises and issued an Enforcement Notice requiring the inadequate emergency stairs and other fire safety defects to be addressed.

A follow-up visit in July 2014 revealed almost none of the deficiencies identified had been corrected and revealed a host of other fire safety failings. These included:

  • Evidence that rooms on the second floor were being used for sleeping despite fire safety concerns
  • Inadequate fire doors in a number of rooms leading onto a corridor which acted as a means of escape
  • Failure to address the concerns around the external staircase which was not protected in the event of a fire
  • Inadequate smoke detection in the guest house rooms
  • No fire protection in the new lift shaft which could have led to rapid fire and smoke spread
  • Blocked escape routes to a place of safety from the emergency external staircase

Following the visit, fire safety officers issued a Prohibition Notice restricting the use of the guest house to the ground floor of the three storey building.

Butt was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on November 17 after admitting four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.  In addition to the fine and suspended prison sentence, he was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £14,200 and given a nightly curfew.

London Fire Brigade deputy assistant commissioner for Fire safety Lee Drawbridge said: “The fact that the guest house owner went ahead with the occupation of the building despite being refused permission by the council on safety grounds is truly shocking. Not only does it show a blatant disregard for fire safety it rendered the building a death trap and put the lives of anyone staying there at serious risk should a fire have broken out.

“It’s the responsibility of building owners to ensure their buildings and those who use them are safe from the risk of fire. The size of the fine handed down in this case should send a clear message that, while we will do everything we can to help building owners meet their fire safety responsibilities, if we find they are blatantly ignoring them we will not hesitate to prosecute.”