Following the death of an elderly resident, a property company responsible for managing a retirement home has been given a fine of £360k, plus a further £100k in costs. The fine is one of the largest ever given out for fire safety offences in the UK.
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service prosecuted FirstPort Limited, formerly Peverel Management Services following the fire at Gibson Court in 2011.
The breaches included; failure to conduct a proper fire risk assessment, failure to maintain fire precautions including fire barriers in the roof space. The care home also failed to carry out any proper fire training for staff.
Following an inquest into the death of Mrs Irene Cockerton, coroner Richard Travers stated that initially the fire was manageable. The house manager Marion Deebie echoed this fact by giving residents tea and biscuits rather than evacuating them.
Judge Climie said the “near total destruction of the roofing” had been down to the fact that there were no external vents from residents’ kitchens. Instead they were vented into the roof space, which over the years had built up deposits of grease and oil from cooking. He added that the firm “fell below the standard to be expected”.
Following the sentencing, Nigel Gray, Assistant Group Commander at Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, said: “A fire which began in a television set spread rapidly across the retirement home’s entire roof. Soon it became a devastating blaze which forced firefighters to return several times to a burning building to rescue vulnerable residents and sadly led to the death of one of them. Our thoughts remain with the family of Irene Cockerton at this time.
“The fine imposed in this case is one of the biggest that we know of for a breach of fire safety regulations. Therefore, we hope it sends a clear message to businesses to take their responsibilities to keep people safe from fire seriously.
“We will always work with businesses to help them comply with fire safety laws but where we find breaches which risk lives or serious injury we won’t hesitate to prosecute.”
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