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Businesses warned not to flout fire safety laws in wake of prosecutions

11 March 2024

BUSINESSES WHO flout fire safety laws and needlessly put lives in danger will be pursued to the full extent of the law. That’s the stark warning issued by fire protection officers from the Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Taking businesses to court is a rare occurrence for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, but the protection team operation within the Fire and Rescue Service has been forced to head down the legal route twice within the last five months (representing the first time in a number of years, in fact, that such action has been required).

Last December, the owners of a business pleaded guilty at Wellingborough Magistrates’ Court to offences committed under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Back in August 2022, a serious fire occurred in the lower ground floor of a block of flats in Northampton that belonged to a company. A fire door at the premises wasn’t fitted with a self-closing device, which meant that smoke entered the staircase and hindered escape routes. Firefighters on scene ended up having to enter the premises and rescue a resident who was trying to escape.

“Given the circumstances in this fire, we decided to gather further details,” explained John Pratt, protection team leader at th Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service. “Our subsequent investigation found that the fire risk assessment, carried out at the premises in June 2021, had identified the fact that the self-closing device – which is designed to close fire doors and stop any blaze from spreading – had not been fitted properly and needed to be rectified as a matter of urgency.”

Pratt continued: “The fire obviously happened more than a year later, so the basis of our case was that the owners had failed to provide sufficient means of escape and had failed to rectify the deficiencies identified in the 2021 report.”

Prohibition Notice

This followed on from a successful case wherein the owners of a takeaway restaurant in Northampton had pleaded guilty at Northampton Magistrates’ Court for breaching a fire Prohibition Notice served on the premises.

Fire protection officers had found that storerooms in the basement had been converted into bedrooms, in turn compromising fire safety. After prohibiting the owners from allowing staff to sleep on the premises, a follow-up inspection a day later (in February 2023) found the Prohibition Notice had, in fact, already been breached.

John Pratt continued: “We don’t go down this route very often. These two cases were the first in a number of years as generally most buildings and their owners are broadly compliant with fire safety regulations. The strength of the cases we built meant both defendants pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.”

He went on to comment: “When we look at whether to prosecute, we have to identify that it’s in the public interest to do so and that there has been an immediate risk to life. The threshold for this action is particularly high, but due to these cases including a breach of a formal Prohibition Notice and a person being placed at a serious risk during a fire, the decision for our senior leaders to pursue a prosecution was clear.”

Further, Pratt observed: “If there’s a risk to life, it’s usually a simple decision for us. It’s our role and duty to create a safe environment for the people of Northamptonshire, so when we do come across flaws and deficiencies, we take decisive action. Primarily, though, we want to help support businesses and organisations to maintain and improve the safety of their premises for the well-being of their staff, visitors and customers.”