Property giant prosecuted after sheltered accommodation blaze

A fire in Sidcup sheltered accommodation block has led to one of the UK’s largest property service groups being prosecuted. The fire injured a 91-year-old woman, which led to them being prosecuted by our fire safety and legal teams for breaking fire safety laws.

Countrywide Residential Lettings Ltd, part of the Countrywide Plc Group, was fined £5,600, and ordered to pay £14,000 prosecution costs to the Brigade and a £120 victim surcharge – a  total bill of £19,720.

The company was sentenced at Bexleyheath Magistrates court on Monday (1 February) after pleading guilty to two offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The fire broke out on 19 April 2011 at Milton Lodge in Sidcup ,a sheltered housing complex for older people.

Four fire engines and over 20 firefighters were called to the blaze where they rescued a 91-year-old woman from the flat where the fire started. She suffered from slight burns and serious smoke inhalation and was taken to hospital. Two other residents were also treated for smoke inhalation.

Serious safety concerns raised following fire

Following the blaze, our fire safety officers carried out an inspection of the building and raised a number of serious fire safety concerns.

These included a failure to implement general fire safety precautions to protect a staircase, failing to maintain fire doors, fire doors being left wedged open and failing to maintain smoke vents.

Countrywide were served with an Enforcement Notice, legally requiring them to fix the fire safety breaches highlighted by our fire safety officers.

The company subsequently failed to address the issues highlighted and therefore leaving us no option but to prosecute.

‘Beggars belief’ safety issues not addressed

London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Neil Orbell, said: “We are talking about very simple issues here that would have been very easy to resolve but time and again Countrywide failed to comply with our legal Enforcement Notice. We were left with no option but to prosecute.

“This is a sheltered block for vulnerable older people so it beggars belief that anyone would not immediately address issues which could compromise their safety.

“I hope this successful prosecution serves as a reminder that  fire safety can be a life or death issue and building owners, managers, leaseholders and landlords take it seriously at all times.

“If we find they are not we will not hesitate to prosecute them. The case also highlights the importance of carrying out a proper fire risk assessment and of employing someone who is qualified and competent to carry it out.”

Offences admitted by Countrywide

Countrywide pleaded guilty to the following offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005:

Article 8: General Fire Precautions: Countrywide failed to implement general fire precautions to protect the single staircase including some that that had been identified in the Fire Risk Assessment e.g maintenance of AOVs, lobby fire doors, fire doors wedged open.

Article 32(1)(d): Non-compliance with an Enforcement Notice. Numerous issues remained unresolved including issues with fire doors and fire stopping.