THE LONDON Fire Brigade is “pleased” that action has been taken by Camden Council to keep residents safe after successfully prosecuting the local authority for its failure to address serious fire defects, which led to the tragic death of Magdalena Fink back in 2017.

In the early hours of 21 November 2017, a fire started in the cupboard under the stairs of the communal staircase serving Fink’s flat located at Daleham Gardens. Despite firefighters arriving quickly at the scene of the blaze, the staircase was completely alight and impassable. Tragically, Fink died due to the fire.

Following this awful incident, Camden Council has increased its level of engagement with the London Fire Brigade with a view towards improving fire safety right across the Borough of Camden and preventing any further incidents relating to fire safety failings happening in the future.

Across the last five years, Camden Council has also strengthened its own in-house fire safety team and established a new Residents Forum such that the London Fire Brigade and local individuals can raise their safety concerns on a regular basis.

On 1 March this year at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Camden Council entered an early guilty plea to two offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005: Article 13 (referencing the failure to provide a suitable alarm system) in combination with an Article 14 failure to ensure that means of escape were available at all times.

As a result, Camden Council was handed a £500,000 fine and ordered to pay £41,100 in court costs plus a victim surcharge.

Risk assessment

During the 2017 incident, Fink had no warning of the rapidly growing fire and became trapped in the building. A fire risk assessment conducted four years earlier had identified the need for significant improvements and categorised the premises as high-risk.

The issues raised in the assessment identified the need for the installation of a common parts fire alarm system linked to heat detection in the flats and additional standalone detection within each of them.

Camden Council had installed temporary smoke detection in the staircase and had replaced a couple of detectors that had failed before 2017, but most works required had not been started by the time of the fire.

In court, the presiding Judge noted the heroic efforts of one resident who raised the alarm after guiding her own family to safety by shouting and using the entry phone intercom to call all the flats and encourage residents to leave.

Other issues identified in the 2013 fire risk assessment included the requirement to replace all of the flat front doors as the existing doors were ill-fitting and not compliant, and also to address the large amounts of rubbish being stored in cupboards in the ground floor areas as well as under the main single staircase.

Compartmentation issues in various locations were also noted.

Prioritising safety works

Charlie Pugsley, Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety at the London Fire Brigade, said: “This case demonstrates how important it is that building managers properly prioritise safety works highlighted in fire risk assessments. Our thoughts remain with the loved ones of Magdalena Fink and the residents of Daleham Gardens.”

Pugsley went on to comment: “Bringing this prosecution against Camden Council has been about ensuring lessons are learned so that we can reduce the likelihood of anything like this ever happening again. We’re pleased to note that, since 2017, Camden Council has been actively engaging with us in order to improve resident safety across the Borough.”

Further, Pugsley asserted: “All landlords, including councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law to ensure their premises meet all fire safety requirements, that they are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and that residents are always safe.”

Below standard

Camden Council acknowledged that the organisation had made many changes to its procedures before and after the fire and, in pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity, also acknowledged that it had procedures and practices in place, but that these fell below the standard that was expected.

A spokesperson for Camden Council said: “Our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of Magdalena Fink, who tragically lost her life in this incident. We are also deeply sorry for the impact this incident has exerted on the residents who were living at Daleham Gardens at the time.”

The spokesperson added: “When this incident occurred, Daleham Gardens did not meet the high standards of fire safety which Camden Council is committed to achieving across its housing portfolio. We are truly sorry this was the case.”

Further, the spokesperson affirmed: “Camden Council has made a clear and public commitment to achieving the highest standards of resident safety and, since 2017, we have invested significantly in improving safety across our housing portfolio. Our comprehensive programme of fire safety works includes key practical measures to ensure that our homes have appropriate fire doors, emergency lighting, fire alarms and fire stopping.”

In conclusion, the spokesperson said: “Camden Council operates a dedicated and resilient fire safety team and has set up new forums for residents and the London Fire Brigade in order to raise safety concerns and issues. We have publicly committed to resident safety through our Fire and Building Safety Charter, which guides our approach on resident safety.”

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