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15 January 2015
A DIY company found guilty of failing to observe fire safety laws at three of its stores admitted in court to a total of 20 breaches of safety.
Al Murads has 40 branches nationwide but when West Yorkshire Fire Service (WYFS) investigated its Morley, Batley and Leeds sites last year, they uncovered a catalogue of shortcomings, including the blocking of fire exits with heavy machinery, failing to keep fire doors unlocked and faulty smoke alarms.
In one store, the fire alarm had been silenced and at another, staff had not been given a risk assessment and equipment such as extinguishers and alarms had ‘not been maintained’.
WYFS said that although the procedures were simple to apply, failure to do so would have been ‘disastrous in the event of a fire’.
The case was originally heard at Leeds Magistrates Court and the company was fined £128,000 last month for the 20 breaches of safety. However, it was later found that lay magistrates had acted beyond their jurisdiction in imposing individual fines in excess of £5000 and the case has now been submitted to Leeds Crown Court for sentencing on 5 February 2015.
The Lay Magistrate said: “We have come to the view that the company did not have anything like a robust approach to the safety of members of the public or indeed the safety of its employees. Having been in business for 30 years, it certainly has the wherewithal and the assets to put in place appropriate safety measures as it has since demonstrated.
‘We don’t feel that the fines that were levied were too great in the overall sense, but we believe that the powers of sentence are not sufficient and that is why we have submitted this case to the Crown Court.”
Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.