A LANDLORD has been given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, after pleading guilty to three offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Ms Nicola Selwood, the owner of 23 Holway Avenue, appeared at Taunton Crown Court yesterday (February 19), after a serious fire at the property in 2018.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service found just one single smoke alarm in the property, which housed up to seven people.

On August 7 2018, firefighters were called to the property to tackle a serious fire. When they arrived, they were told two men had evacuated but someone may still have been inside the attic.

And so the crew - wearing breath apparatus - tackled the blaze and searched for the missing person.

But it was later confirmed that everyone was out of the building.

One man was treated by an ambulance crew for minor burns. It was believed the fire was accidental.

Somerset County Gazette: HOLWAY AVENUE FIRE: the remains of the staircase to the attic within the property after the fire

However, after the incident, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service officers began an investigation to see whether the fire safety measures for the property met the standards of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

The investigation, carried out in conjunction with Taunton Deane Borough Council (now Somerset West and Taunton) revealed that Ms Selwood had failed to carry out a fire risk assessment.

She failed to provide:

  • A suitable fire warning and detection system
  • A safe means of escape from the premises adequately protected by fire doors
  • Emergency escape lighting in case of mains electrical failure

From the ground floor (as the top floor was too damaged) and the tennants, officers were able to establish that the only fire safety measure was a single fire detector at the base of the stairs.

In summing up, the judge made specific reference as to how the fire came about and then spread, gutting the property. They said this was as a result of not implementing the fire safety measures that the fire service and the local housing authority had informed her to do, in 2008.

As a result, the fire destroyed the house, formerly her family home, which is uninhabitable and leaving her £100K in debt and with no income.

Somerset County Gazette: HOLWAY AVENUE FIRE: Remains of the ground floor living room presented during the hearing

Fire Safety Manager, Pete Smith said: “Ms Selwood was fully aware of her responsibilities as a landlady but failed to ensure the safety of her tenants. There is clear evidence that she put profit before safety.

"She knew that the fire safety measures in the premises were far below an acceptable standard but carried on renting it out for a number of years with no regard of the risks to the tenants.

“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of carrying out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment and having the appropriate fire safety measures in place.

"It is extremely fortunate that the fire occurred during the day when most of the occupants were out. Had the fire started at a time when people were asleep, the outcome could have been very different.”

As the investigation continued, officers discovered that as far back as 2008, Ms Selwood had received several letters from Taunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC) regarding the property and its use as HMO.

This included a schedule of the required fire safety work, at which point Ms Selwood informed TDBC that she was no longer renting out rooms.

When questioned under caution, Ms Selwood confirmed that within a year she had started renting out rooms again for up to seven people at a time and did so up until the time of the fire.

She confirmed that none of the fire safety works specified in 2008 had been carried out.

The officers also discovered Ms Selwood had recently spent money on converting the garage at the property to provide additional accommodation.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service believes the outcome of the case sends a clear message to the business community that their duties under fire safety legislation "must not be ignored". 

To find out more about fire safety and guidance, visit www.gov.uk/workplace-fire-safety-your-responsibilities.