28th Sep, 2020

Coventry restaurateur and businessman escape jail for 'death trap' fire safety breaches at former General Wolfe pub

Correspondent 20th Dec, 2016

One of the bosses of a Coventry Indian restaurant and a businessman have narrowly escaped being jailed over fire safety breaches which made the former General Wolfe pub a potential death trap.

Israr Rajah, Bashir Ahmed, Akbar Jan and Ahmed’s business, Mushtaq’s Ltd, all pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to failing to take general fire precautions and a number of other fire safety offences.

Raja (29) of Dorset Road, Coventry, who had already been given a suspended sentence in 2012 for food hygiene offences at the Bab E Khybar restaurant in Coventry, was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for two years.

He was also ordered to do 240 hours of unpaid work, to pay £1,000 costs and made subject to a 7pm-7am electronically-tagged curfew for four months.

Ahmed (58) of Stratford Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham, was sentenced to 30 weeks in prison suspended for two years, and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work and to pay £2,000 costs.

Mushtaq’s Ltd, also based in Stratford Road, Sparkhill, was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs.

Jan (50) who lived at the premises at the time, but now of Lumb Lane, Bradford, had his case adjourned to a later date after he and his solicitor got stuck on the M1 on their way to court when it was closed by the police following an incident.

The charges all related to the former General Wolfe pub in Foleshill Road, Coventry, which was leased to Mushtaq’s Ltd, of which Ahmed is a director, in December 2011.

Thereafter Mushtaq’s sub-let part of the premises to Jan and Raja who converted part of the building to become the Bab E Khybar Indian restaurant, explained prosecutor Mark Jackson.

Mushtaq’s ran an Indian sweet shop on the ground floor of the building, which had five stories including the basement.

Mr Jackson, prosecuting on behalf of the West Midlands Fire Service, said the breaches of fire safety regulations were found during inspections in June and July 2012.

He said fire alarms did not work and there was no fire risk assessment. Fire doors were missing or defective.

“The defendants were running businesses for profit, and the plain inference is that they put profit before the safety of others.

“Even though Mushtaq’s and Mr Ahmed were fully aware the premises were to be used as a restaurant and for sleeping accommodation, the premises were passed over to Mr Jan and Mr Raja in an extremely dangerous state.”

Following an inspection in June 2012, fire officers banned the sleeping accommodation. But when a further inspection was carried out in July, the property was still being used for sleeping, with people renting rooms for £150 a month.

In April 2014, after Jan and Raja had left following their prosecution for food hygiene offences at the restaurant, West Midlands Fire Service had to deal with a fire which caused smoke-logging throughout the premises.

Ben Williams, for Raja, said: “He was at the time just 25 and very much a junior partner, coming into the business and relying on the older and more experienced businessman Mr Jan.

“His control was limited to the ground floor and the basement. He was not responsible for the first floor and above.”

Balbir Singh, for Ahmed, said that when Mushtaq’s took on the premises, it already had sleeping accommodation, ‘so they assumed the fire doors and the like were already in place.’

Sentencing Raja and Akbar, Judge Andrew Lockhart QC told them: “It was highly foreseeable that in the event of a fire these premises might have become a death trap.

“There was no meaningful attempt to comply even with the most basic of measures. They were simply ignored to maximise profit.”

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