Record £400,000 fine for retailer’s fire safety breaches

High street retailer New Look has been fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £136,052 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of fire safety legislation, following a serious fire at its Oxford Street store in London.

Thirty-five fire engines and around 150 firefighters attended the fire on 26 April 2007, when around 450 people form the store and surrounding premises were evacuated. The first call to the fire service did not come until an office worker in an adjacent building took action, and the delay meant that the fire had already broken through the second floor windows when firefighters arrived. Despite the building’s fire alarm sounding, the alarm was reset on at least one occasion, said London Fire Brigade.

Crews remained on the scene for the next three days and a section of Oxford Street was closed to traffic and the public for two days. The cause of the fire was never established and the store was subsequently demolished.

One charge to which New Look pleaded guilty was for an inadequate fire risk assessment which was found to have a number of flaws, including no record of the appropriate procedures to be taken during a fire alarm. Another breach was insufficient staff training, which led to a delayed evacuation of the premises. This lack of training, said LFB, also led to staff evacuating around 150 people through the main entrance which was directly underneath the fire on the second floor.

Other alleged breaches taken into account included the absence of an interface between the swipe card system and the fire alarm panel which would have deactivated the doors. In addition, green emergency door release units were fitted on the wrong side of the basement doors.

The fine is the largest to have been handed down for a breach to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Child Drowned

A leisure centre has been fined £40,000 for serious management failings after a seven- year-old child drowned in a swimming pool.

Luke Hutton and a group of friends were enjoying a day out with his mother at the Olympia Leisure Complex in Dundee. Luke apparently did not know how to swim but still followed his friends into the pool while his mother was in the leisure centre canteen.

The pool had an area known as a wave channel, which is where swimmers could go to feel the full force of the wave machine. Luke became separated from his friends and was last seen entering the wave channel while holding on to a float. The wave channel had a blind spot, which can’t be viewed by lifeguards, and it is thought that Luke lost his grip on the float while the wave machine was in operation, and subsequently drowned.

When the waves stopped swimmers were asked to leave the pool as it was the end of the session. Once the pool was empty, staff put the covers over the pool. A few moments later Luke’s mother informed the leisure centre that he was missing, and they began to search the site. Staff removed the covers from the pool and found Luke at the bottom of the deep end.

Following an HSE investigation the group that owns the leisure centre, Dundee Leisure, was issued with seven Improvement Notices. Five of the notices ordered the firm to carry out a risk assessment at five of its leisure centres, and the other two notices required it to have arrangements in place for health and safety, and to have a competent person in charge of safety at the Olympia Leisure Complex.

HSE inspector Peter Dodd said: “HSE recognises the undoubted benefits of children learning to swim and the skills this equips them with. Cases such as this are rare, but it illustrates what can happen when a non-swimmer is not given the full attention they require to enable them to use these facilities safely.”

Dundee Leisure appeared at Dundee Sheriff Court on 17 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £40,000 but no costs are awarded in Scotland.

The firm mitigated that it had no previous convictions and, following the investigation, it appointed a health and safety consultancy to carry out risk assessments at all its leisure facilities. It has also revised its admissions policy for swimmers to ensure that a responsible person accompanies non-swimmers at all times. It has subsequently demolished the wave channel.


An HSE inspector prosecuting a theme-park company over the death of a worker ended up in the dock herself owing to her behaviour in court.

Details have only just emerged of the case of inspector Helen Diamond, who was fined £2000 at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on 10 November, after being found in contempt of court by Sheriff Elizabeth McFarlane. The charge related to her behaviour in court and towards a defence witness on 8 October during the trial of Parkware Ltd, owner of the Loudoun Castle theme park in Galston, Ayrshire.

In addition to her sentence, the HSE has taken further action against Diamond but has not dismissed her. A spokesperson stated “This is a matter of great regret to both the inspector and the HSE. We accept and understand the decision of the court and HSE has taken its own disciplinary action against the individual, in addition to the sentence imposed by the court. We expect the highest standards of conduct from all our employees and regret what happened in this case.”

The HSE also intends to write to its field staff to “remind them about court etiquette”.

The trial at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court ended on 10 October with Parkware found not guilty of a contravention of section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

The prosecution followed the death in July 2007 of an employee of the company, who had tried to activate a stalled rollercoaster car at the start of the ride. When the ride commenced, he failed to let go of the back of the car and was thrown off, sustaining fatal injuries.

Lift death health club admits flaws

A central London health club has pleaded guilty to breaches of health and safety law following the death of a young banker who was crushed to death as she exited a faulty lift.

Katarzyna Woja, 32, was killed as she vacated the lift at Broadgate Health Club in the City of London after it fell, crushing her between the carriage and the shaft.

The company admitted a series of breaches including allowing the lift to remain in operation in an unsafe condition.

Crown Court judge Deborah Taylor said sentencing for Holmes Place Health Clubs will take place after the conclusion of the trial, due on March 8 next year at Southwark Crown Court.


More than half of a school in South Yorkshire has been destroyed by a large fire which broke out in the early hours.

Around 60 firefighters tackled the blaze at Campsmount Technology College in Norton near Doncaster. Only the gymnasium, library and a number of classrooms were left intact.

The school in now closed. An investigation into the cause of the fire is underway.

Richard Chandler, area manager for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, told BBC News that the fire spread rapidly through a large part of the school. “We were looking at flames up to about 100ft into the air, a thick black smoke plume probably rose up to 300ft into the air.

“There’s an awful lot of twisted metal, there’s an awful lot of ruined classroom equipment and probably across quite a large part of the site, there’s very little apart from the steel structure that stands.”