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Fines totalling over half a million pounds handed out over ‘potentially catastrophic’ fire safety failings at Leeds student flats

Three companies have been ordered to pay fines totalling £670,000 after admitting fire safety failings at a building used for student accommodation in Leeds.

Judge Mairs at Leeds Crown Court heard how Trinity Halls on Woodhouse Street had only one available fire escape which was compromised due to combustible materials, putting at serious risk the 27 students who had moved in, in September 2016.

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.

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 35 metres to get to the nearest fire escape, almost double the recommended limit of 18 metres.

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.

Following this report, inspectors from West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service attended the building and discovered breaches in legislation. Inspectors then issued a prohibition order meaning students had to vacate the property for their own safety; a step Judge Mairs praised the service for doing so quickly and reducing the time students were put at risk.

Trinity Developments Ltd, the owners of the building, admitted four safety breaches. Niche Homes Ltd, contracted to manage and let the property, also admitted the same four breaches.

These are:

  • Failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.
  • Failing to take precautions to make sure the premises were safe from risk of fire.
  • Failing to provide appropriate fire detection and alarm system.
  • Failing to provide an adequate number of fire escape routes and exits.

In addition to this 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.

At previous hearings guilty pleas were entered to the charges, all relating to the period September 24th 2016 to September 27th 2016.

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

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.”

In sentencing, he fined APP Construction Ltd £450,000, Trinity Developments Ltd £160,000 and Niche Homes Ltd £60,000. The three companies also agreed to pay costs. APP Construction Ltd will pay £9,000. Trinity Developments Ltd will pay £6,000 and Niche Homes Ltd will also pay £6,000.

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.

“West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service are committed to ensuring the communities of West Yorkshire are safe and feel safe in the buildings they use. We will continue to work with building owners to support them in achieving this, however when we are faced with concerns such as were found at Trinity Halls, we have no alternative but to consider legal action against those responsible for putting people at risk.”