16 June 2014

Peter Metcalf, the owner of a Blackpool hotel that was shut down last year due to a flagrant breach of fire safety regulations has been jailed for 18 months and ordered to pay £5,243 in costs.

The 90 room New Kimberley Hotel was described as a ‘death trap’ by Blackpool Council's housing enforcement manager Alex Bracken, who said: “If a fire were to have started, it would have even put the firefighters in danger.

According to Lancashire Fire and Rescue the only escape from the building was through the front exit which was flanked by gas cylinders and faulty electrical wiring – there was no other fire exit that had not been nailed shut, chained shut or blocked with broken beds or other obstacles. Mr Metcalf’s response to fire officers was to threaten them with legal action, delivering what looked like homemade writs. A previous FIA news report detailed many other breaches of health, fire and safety regulations, which led to Metcalf’s prosecution.

The hotelier was found guilty of 15 breaches of fire safety law in the case, which was brought by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service fire safety regulation enforcement specialists.

Passing sentence, Judge Anthony Russell QC, told Metcalf: “Attempts to speak to you had been made but you had been obstructive and threatened legal action. It appears your attitude was that people living there were grown adults and if they did not know the situation that was their problem. You showed a callous disregard for people’s safety.”

Lancashire’s Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Dave Russel, added: “This is the longest custodial sentence handed out by a court since this offence was introduced seven years ago. There is no doubt that had there been a fire in the hotel, people would have been seriously injured or killed.”

Councillor Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, told the Blackpool Gazette: “The minute we inspected the New Kimberley Hotel we knew it was a death trap, and acted quickly to get it closed down and to work with the Fire Service to bring the owners to justice.

“The state the hotel was in was nothing short of abysmal and I’m happy that the judge has agreed that this is a crime deserving of a severe sentence. Fire safety is no laughing matter and property owners who fail to make their premises secure are putting lives at risk.

“We have worked together with Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service throughout and together we will continue to tackle landlords who fail in their obligations.”

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.