Sunderland Hostel managers plead guilty to major fire safety breaches

Date12 August 2013
The Licensee and managers from a Sunderland Hostel have been fined £6,880.00 plus £3,911.26 costs after admitting to a number of fire safety breaches which placed people's lives at risk.

Mr Lally, the General Manager, Mrs Lally, the Licensee and Mr Chomko, the Duty Manager of the Norfolk Hotel appeared before Sunderland Magistrates on Friday 9 August and pleaded guilty to the fire safety breaches. Mr and Mrs Lally were each fined £3,350 plus £1,913.13 costs and Mr Chomko was fined £180.00 and orded to pay a total of £85.00 in costs.

The Norfolk Hotel is a former 42 bedroom hotel which is now used as a hostel providing accommodation for 37 residents.

The court heard that fire crews were called to the property on Sunday 18th November 2012 after a fire had broken out in one of the bedrooms. On arrival, after fighting the fire, crews discovered the fire exit nearest to the room on fire was padlocked shut with a heavy duty bike lock. This prevented the fire exit being used in this emergency situation.

Initially, when asked, the night porter was unable to find the key for the lock and could not open the fire exit door. When he eventually located the key, he proceeded to snap it in the lock and fire crews had to cut the lock off to make sure the residents would be safe if another fire was to break out. This serious breach in fire safety led crews to request the attendance of a specialist Fire Safety Officer to investigate their findings.

When the premises were inspected, there were additional areas of fire safety non-compliance including lack of fire safety training for staff and inadequate procedures such as fire safety drills. Other deficiencies included a lack of manual call points to help residents and staff to raise the alarm in the event of a fire and inadequate fire detection in parts of the building. To compound the issue, staff and occupants were not notified of deficiencies relating to fire safety, which seriously put their lives at risk.

Area Manager for Community Safety, Kevin Hepple said: "During this serious fire incident, the final exit on the means of escape was padlocked shut, preventing the occupants from safely evacuating the premises via the shortest possible route, which is totally unacceptable. This put the lives of staff and the occupants at serious risk. When we considered this and other fire safety breaches found during the post- fire fire safety inspection, prosecution was the only option for the Service.

Kevin continued: "Our preferred option is to work closely through engagement with the business community to offer free fire safety advice and support; but in the most serious cases such as this one, we will not hesitate to exercise our legal powers to ensure the safety of the public."

Councillor Graeme Miller, Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Health, Housing and Adult Services said: "The council is committed to driving up standards of accommodation and safety within hostels which house some of the city's most vulnerable residents, and it works closely with good landlords to raise standards.

"However the council also prosecutes poor landlords who put their tenants health and lives at risk and it supports the work of partners such as the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service who successfully brought this prosecution.

Councillor Tom Wright, Fire Authority Chairman said: "The fire safety breaches found in the Norfolk Hotel were unacceptable, putting lives at risk.  Every resident in the Tyne and Wear area should have the right to stay safe in premises which have the highest possible fire safety standards."

For more information please contact Corporate Communications.
Tel: 0191 444 1725/ 1542
Email: Julie.Knox@twfire.gov.uk