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13 February 2020
Trinity Halls, a student accommodation in Leeds, was found to have multiple serious fire safety concerns. Judge Mairs at Leeds Crown Court found that the building only had one available fire escape due to combustible materials compromising the fire safety of the students. Thus, risking the lives of the 27 students who have lived there since 2016 – over 3 years. Yet this was not the only failing that was witnessed at Trinity Halls.
The court also heard that there were several other significant failures’. The court heard that a lack of fire alarms and detection within the building meant that in the event of a fire, students would not have had early warning to evacuate the building and upon evacuation, some students would have had to travel 35 metres to get to the nearest fire escape, almost double the recommended limit of 18 metres’.
These clear, and frankly alarming, failings were noticed by a concerned parent who was dropping off their daughter in 2016 and decided to report it to the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS). Resultingly, inspectors visited Trinity Hall and witnessed the breaches in legislation. Shortly after their visit, a prohibition order was issued, it stated that students had to vacate the property for their own safety. Step judge Mairs commended WYFRS for acting quickly to ensure that lives were not lost as a result of these unacceptable fire safety failings.
What did the inspectors find?
- Failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.
- Failing to take precautions to make sure the premises were safe from the risk of fire.
- Failing to provide appropriate fire detection and alarm system.
- Failing to provide an adequate number of fire escape routes and exits.
Trinity Developments Ltd, Niche Homes Ltd and APP Construction Ltd were found to have had ‘high culpability’ and they should have known potentially catastrophic shortcomings especially as a member of the public could see that the building was unsafe to house students. All three companies were all offered credit in court for their early guilty pleas. It has been reported that acceptable safety measures are now in place at Trinity Hall. Hopefully, this shocking example serves as a needed reminder that fire safety is paramount and failing to meet the standards will be punished in this ever-changing competency-based industry.
Cassie Williams, the lead prosecutor on this case, spoke to the FIA and said:
‘I have been involved in prosecuting fire safety cases for a number of years and have seen an increased level of understanding of the importance that preventative steps have in protecting the public from the risks associated with a fire. The consequences of a fire in these premises would have been catastrophic. Cases such as Trinity Halls show that the Courts are trying to ensure that appropriate steps must be taken, or else deterrent sentences will follow. I have had the privilege to work with fire protection officers that are extremely conscientious and experts in this field. They have a difficult job to do that often goes unnoticed and therefore under appreciated by the wider public and so cases like this, that open up discussion and increase awareness, are incredibly important.’