28th Oct, 2016

Coventry landlord avoids jail after man's 40pc burns in fire horror

Coventry Editorial 26th Sep, 2016 Updated: 3 hours ago

A man suffered life-threatening 40 per cent burns when he was trapped in his room in a Coventry multiple occupancy house after another resident deliberately started a fire.

And at Warwick Crown Court landlord Simon Fox escaped jail after failing to have proper fire safety precautions.

Fox (55) of Common Lane, Polesworth, had denied fire safety offences in relation to the house in Humber Road, Coventry.

He pleaded guilty to failing to take general fire precautions, placing people in danger in the event of a fire.

Mark Jackson, prosecuting on behalf of the West Midlands Fire Service, explained that at shortly before 5am on January 15, 2011, there was an arson incident when an intoxicated ground-floor resident, who has since been jailed for three years, started a fire in her room.

Most of the other residents were asleep, and two were trapped in their first-floor rooms and had to be rescued by the fire brigade.

Francis Wilkinson was rescued by firefighters who, unable to get upstairs because of the fire, smashed the window with an axe and carried him down a ladder.

The other trapped resident, David Lennon, recalled being woken by the crackling sound of the fire, but did not hear any alarm to alert him – and there was not one on his room or in the hallway outside.

“He opened his door, but by then the fire had taken hold and he could not get down the stairs. He was beaten back by a blast of heat and was trapped in his room.

“He tried to get out of the bedroom window, but the gap was too small; and the next thing he could remember was waking up in the burns unit of a London hospital.”

Mr Jackson said Mr Lennon was rescued by firefighters who had found him unconscious in his room and was rushed to University Hospital in Coventry before being transferred to a specialised burns unit in London, while other residents had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

“He was in a critical condition, and his family were told he might not make it. He had burns to 40% of his body.

“He has had eight operations and 17 skin grafts, and he has lost his employment and his relationship has broken down as a result.”

Mr Jackson said the building was owned by Britannia Corporation Ltd, of which Fox was the sole director.

An investigation revealed there was no interlinked automatic fire detection system, and although there were some individual smoke detectors, the one on the kitchen, where there was no fire blanket, had no battery in it.

There were no smoke detectors in one of the ground floor bedrooms and two of the first-floor rooms, including Mr Lennon’s, and Fox had no proper system in place to check the equipment.

When he was interviewed Fox claimed the property had previously been inspected by Warwickshire Social Services when it had been used to house Kosovan refugees.

And he said he had carried out an inspection himself and had asked residents to notify him of any concerns, but accepted he did not have a written fire assessment.

Fox was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for two years and ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Stephen Eyre QC also fined him £25,000 to be paid by the end of August next year, with 15 months in prison in default, and £24,300 costs.

The judge told Fox: “The ensuring of proper fire precautions in properties in multi-occupation is a matter of life and death. It is no exaggeration to say that, it is a literal truth.

“..But at the age of 55 you are a man of good character, and I accept you seek to act as a responsible businessman.

“This is far from a reckless disregard for the safety of tenants, but you did not take the precautions you should have taken.”