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Prosecution case launched against fire risk assessor collapses

18 December 2023

A PROSECUTION case launched against a fire risk assessor and his company has collapsed after it was discovered that the fire risk assessment upon which the prosecution was based was not in fact the original document.

BAFE-registered fire risk assessor Jason Sugden and his company, namely Benfield Fire Safety Limited, were being prosecuted in respect of a fire risk assessment procedure carried out in January 2020.

However, ‘not guilty’ verdicts were entered at Portsmouth Crown Court after it emerged that those prosecuting the case, itself brought forward by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service, had not disclosed the original fire risk assessment.

Portsmouth Crown Court was informed that the ‘Responsible Person’ for the Shedfield Lodge Care Home in Shedfield near Southampton had been asked by the investigating officer in the case for a copy of the risk assessment following a fire that took place in November 2020. It later transpired that the ‘Responsible Person’ had accidentally given the officer an updated fire risk assessment rather than the original. Consequently, a number of aspects of the fire risk assessment were incorrect and had not formed part of the original.

Those present at Portsmouth Crown Court were made aware that the prosecution had instructed a fire safety expert, who had concluded that he could no longer be sure that the deficiencies outlined in the original fire risk assessment risked death or serious injury. As a result, the prosecution could no longer continue and sought to offer no evidence against both defendants.

No objection

Representing the defendants, Warren Spencer (managing director of Blackhurst Budd Solicitors) confirmed to Portsmouth Crown Court that he had no objection to the prosecution application.

Both defendants had pleaded ‘not guilty’ to both charges of failing to provide a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. The case had been fixed for a trial to take place in November 2024.

Jason Sugden commented: “I’ve always maintained that the original fire risk assessment was suitable and sufficient and I have consistently defended these charges. It’s very disappointing that the Fire and Rescue Service didn’t obtain a complete fire risk assessment history for the premises before commencing a prosecution against myself and my company.”

Sugden continued: “The fire risk assessment that was disclosed and relied upon by the Fire and Rescue Service did not make sense as the dates by which certain works should have been carried out did not marry up with the risk-based timescales detailed elsewhere in the assessment.”

Internal works

Significant internal works had been carried out at the premises between January and November 2020, including the installation of a lift shaft. “I was criticised for not having identified compartmentation issues found in November 2020,” observed Sugden, “which I’ve always maintained were not present in the previous January.”

In conclusion, Sugden stated: “I’m pleased that, following two years of stress, worry and fighting to clear my own name and that of my company, the prosecution has finally decided to offer no evidence against me.”