Harrogate guest house owner heavily fined over fire safety breaches

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service are again reminding all business owners to make sure that they are providing the correct level of fire safety provisions and are not breaching Fire Safety Legislation, following the prosecution of a business woman operating in Harrogate.

Mrs Yoko Banks has pleaded guilty to total of 15 breaches of articles contained in the Fire Safety Order, relating to 5 properties in Harrogate, which she owns and runs as houses in multiple occupation (HMO), guest houses and hotels.

  • 2a Woodlands Road
  • The Ruskin 1 Swan Road
  • Ashley House Hotel 36-40 Franklin Road
  • Azalia Court 56-58 Kings Road
  • Aston Hotel 7-9 Franklin Mount


The Fire Safety Order applies to the common parts of the HMO but entirely to all areas of the other 4 premises.

The offences were committed between November 2012 to March 2014, and relate to the duties of conducting suitable and sufficient risk assessments and providing adequate general fire precautions.

Station Manager David Watson said: These matters are arguably the cornerstone for providing adequate fire safety measures within premises and the most serious contained in the Fire Safety Order. The duty to take general fire precautions are necessary to ensure the safety of both employees and persons living or visiting the property. It relates to taking measure to reduce the risk of fire, prevent the spread of fire, securing, at all times, the means of escape from premises, along with the ability to fight fires, detect fires, give appropriate warnings and ensuring that employees are trained to deal with fire related incidents. In this instance Fire Officers believe that the breaches of the general fire precautions were such as to result in the risk of death or serious injury.

For each of the premises, Mrs Yoko Banks failed to comply with an Enforcement Notice requiring her to remedy the fire safety deficiencies. Mrs Banks also failed to have a suitable Fire Risk Assessment[2] in place. The subsequent Fire Risk Assessments were insufficient as they failed to identify deficiencies in the premises concerned. In addition, she had not taken the necessary general fire precautions to ensure the safety of her residents, and for one of the premises (Ashley House) she had also failed to ensure the safety of her employees.

Owing to the failure of the fire alarm and detection system in two of the properties (2a Woodlands Road and Azalia Court Hotel), the Fire Authority served two Prohibition Notices in order to prevent persons from sleeping there. Prohibition Notices are the highest sanction available to a Fire Authority and are used sparingly because of the significant impact on a business. They are only served when standards of general fire precautions have fallen so far below the expected standards that people are placed at immediate risk of death or serious injury.

Fire crews have attended two of Mrs Yoko Bank’s properties on four occasions, three times in February 2013 and once in November 2013 in answer to 999 calls. On one occasion, when crews attended they found a fire alarm sounding but no staff members were on site or responded to the alarm. On another occasion a large cannabis cultivation operation was discovered on the top floor of one of the premises. Such operations greatly increase the risk of fire as large heat lamps are used. When this discovery was made the fire alarm detection system was not functioning correctly, causing significant risk of fire and serious injury or death to those within the building.



Despite Mrs Yoko Banks advising the Fire Authority by letter in April 2012 that she intended fully to comply with fire safety requirements, an audit undertaken in February 2013, found that all five properties continued to have serious fire safety deficiencies necessitating in the serving of five Enforcement Notices and two Prohibition Notices.

In all of the properties there were similar serious and numerous fire safety deficiencies, for example:

  • a lack of a functioning fire alarm and detection system,
  • inadequate fire separation,
  • lack of smoke detection in guest bedrooms,
  • no record of daily fire alarm checks and weekly fire alarm tests or emergency lighting, testing being carried out,
  • no safety drills and;
  • no suitable Fire Risk Assessments in place.

In all cases there were insufficient and poorly maintained fire doors, some did not close properly, some were not at the ‘30 minute fire resisting’ standard, some had gaps and holes in them, and /or were missing intumescent strips and smoke seals, there was electrical wiring hanging down from the ceiling, blocked means of escape and storage of combustible items creating a real risk of fire.

Officers from NYFRS repeatedly provided advice and assistance to Mrs Yoko Banks in their dealings with her. Mrs Yoko Banks has on more than one occasion been urged to obtain the assistance of a competent professional specialising in matters of fire safety but has stated that this is too expensive.

The dangerous state of the premises resulting in the risk to life or death or injury to persons in event of fire, and continued poor management of fire safety despite the best efforts of NYFRS have led to this prosecution.

On August 27th 2014 at Harrogate Magistrates Court Mrs Yoko Banks pleaded guilty in total to 15 contraventions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These offences were committed across 5 premises: four guest houses and one house of multiple occupation. Due to the seriousness of the offences the Magistrates declined to deal with the matter and sent the case to York Crown Court for sentencing.

On 11th November 2014 at York Crown Court 2014 Mrs Yoko Banks was fined a total of £50,000 and was also ordered to pay in full £12,000 prosecution costs.

In sentencing Mr Recorder Baird said that despite many visits to the premises by the fire service Mrs Banks had failed to protect residents and that she had a duty of care to ensure the premises were safe. He also said there had been a marked reluctance to comply with the regulations probably because of financial reasons.

Ms Karen Galloway prosecuting stated that: The Fire and Rescue Service’s decision to prosecute was not taken lightly and this measure is only taken in the most serious cases. The Responsible Person is always in a position of authority, their lack of actions should have been foreseeable to prevent, in the event of fire, persons being put at risk of death or injury. The contraventions in this case were serious and would have continued had the Fire Authority not continued to insist that Enforcement Notices, that they had served on the Responsible Person, was complied with.

 

Station Manager, David Watson of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said: The majority of business premises that we visit are well-managed. Owners and directors of companies are usually conscientious about fire safety matters.

We do, however, continue to find a number of businesses and premises, where the fire safety order applies, which do not have adequate fire risk assessments or fire safety provisions.

In premises where sleeping takes place it is vitally important that the correct measures are provided and maintained. When fire alarm and detection systems are not provided or not maintained in full working order those people who are sleeping in a building may well have their lives put at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire.

Fire safety officers always try to work with businesses and business owners to ensure they are compliant or can achieve compliance with the requirements of the legislation and within an acceptable time scale. Unfortunately in this case the person with control chose not to heed advice and requirements of enforcement notices .

The conviction shows how seriously the Fire Authority and the Courts view those who put the safety of others at risk in the event of a fire.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority urge business owners and those with responsibility for any premises, where the fire safety order applies, to ensure that they have conducted their Fire Risk Assessment or reviewed any existing Fire Risk Assessment when this is required. It is important that they are aware of the legislative obligations they need to comply with including having an up to date fire risk assessment.
In order to assist the business community to understand their responsibilities under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO), North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service organise a series of information seminars throughout the county.

If you are a member of the North Yorkshire business community and would like to attend one of these seminars, you can register your interest by emailing business.requests@northyorksfire.gov.uk or by visiting our website www.northyorksfire.gov.uk/businesssafety/seminars
For other fire safety information call the Fire Safety Advice Line (01609) 788545 or visit our website www.northyorksfire.gov.uk where links to business guidance documents can be found.


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