Social Housing provider fined £40k for fire safety breaches

Inside Housing recently reported that Lewisham Homes has been fined £40,000 for failing to install secure fire doors and carry out regular risk assessments before a fire that caused the deaths of two women.

Sandra Clarke, a tenant of Marine Tower in Lewisham, set fire to her flat on the 16th floor on 4 February 2011, which then spread to a neighbouring flat and resulted in the deaths of two women, Kunaliny Alagaratnam and her relative Santhirapathy Tharmalingam. Two other residents whose flat had a self-locking fire door escaped unharmed.

Ms Clarke was sentenced to two counts of manslaughter in 2012 and is serving a 16-year prison sentence.

At a previous hearing, Lewisham Homes pleaded guilty to two charges relating to a failure to maintain fire doors at some of the flats and failure to carry out regular risk assessments, in breach of the Fire Safety Order 2005.

At the time of the fire in 2011, it had been over two years since a fire risk assessment had been carried out. Assessments are meant to be conducted annually.

At Woolwich Crown Court today, judge Justice Christopher Hehir ordered the arm’s-length management organisation (ALMO) to pay £40,000 plus £23,407 in costs.

Justice Hehir said the fine was “much less” than he would fine “a large company generating profit” in recognition that the ALMO provides a “public good”.

Delays occurred when a company they contracted to carry out the assessments, Connaught, went into administration halfway through the process.

Justice Hehir said the failure to ensure all flats had functioning self-closing fire doors was a “thoroughly dangerous situation… which had in fact existed for some time”.

He said high-risk blocks of flats “can quickly become a death trap” when a fire breaks out.

The judge praised the ALMO for its “full co-operation” with the fire authorities and police investigation, and for its “full compliance” with the enforcement notice that was issued.

A spokesperson for Lewisham Homes said: “We accept our failings under the fire safety regulations and take residents’ safety very seriously. We have been determined to learn lessons and invested heavily year on year to continually improve fire safety, and have made significant progress over the past five years.”

Since 2011, it has spent £10.8m to improve fire safety standards, carries out regular reviews of risk assessments and has recruited specialist fire safety staff