Hotel pays £260,000 in landmark fire safety Jury trial

A London hotel has had to pay more than £260,000 in fines and costs in what is believed to be the first jury trial of a case under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The Chumleigh Lodge Hotel Limited and its sole director, Michael Wilson, had pleaded not guilty to a total of 12 offences under the Fire Safety Order. The trial took place at Blackfriars Crown Court between 28 November and 6 December 2011 and sentencing was on Monday 6 February.

The offences date back to 18 May 2008 when London Fire Brigade was called to a fire at the hotel on Nether Street in Finchley, north London. The blaze had spread quickly from a first floor guest bedroom, up a staircase to the floor above and along a corridor.

Three people escaped from the fire, two by using the stairs and a third by climbing out of a second floor window.

Following the blaze, fire safety inspectors visited the hotel and raised a number of concerns. These included defective fire doors, blocked escape routes and no smoke alarms in some of the hotel’s bedrooms. Mr Wilson was also unable to produce a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment and was found not to have provided staff with adequate fire safety training.

The fine was divided between the individual defendant, Michael Wilson (£180,000) and the corporate defendant, Chumleigh Lodge Hotel Limited (£30,000). The defendants were further ordered to pay prosecution costs of £50,000, and compensation of £2,000 to the guest who escaped through a second floor window.

The company was found guilty of six offences, while Mr Wilson was found guilty of ‘consent or connivance in the commission’ of those same offences:

Failure to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk (article 9)
Failure to provide staff with adequate safety training (article 21)
Failure to ensure emergency routes from the premises are kept clear (article 14)
Failure to adequately equip premises with fire detectors (article 13)
Two counts of failure to ensure premises, facilities, equipment or devices are maintained in an efficient state, in working order and in good repair (article 17)

“Business owners have a clear responsibility under fire safety law to ensure that both the public and their employees are as safe as possible from the risk of fire,” said Brian Coleman, chairman of London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. “This verdict sends out a clear message that if these responsibilities are ignored we will not hesitate in prosecuting and people will face serious penalties.”