Property management agent and retired Force and Sons estate agent Mr David Force, from Dawlish, pleaded guilty to three charges of breaches of fire safety at Newton Abbot Magistrates Court on Monday 15 August. He was ordered to pay full costs to the local authority. The charges relate to his property at 9 Queen Street, which is used as commercial businesses on the ground floor with a privately let flat above.
This demonstrates how Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, as an enforcing authority, has taken action to keep the public safe from harm.
In 2021, business safety officers from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service raised concerns with Mr Force for unsafe practices such as a lack of suitable means of escape in case of fire, structural failures and the absence of a fire risk assessment.
The officers took the decision that the premises were dangerous to the person who lived in the flat, and with immediate effect, they couldn’t stay there anymore. This was because if a fire were to occur on the ground floor the person in the flat above would not be able to make their escape safely. The person in the flat was also considered to be vulnerable as they were elderly with additional disabilities.
Following the investigation, the fire service made the decision to take Mr Force to court. The Service determined that the conditions found at the premises in 2021 were so far below an acceptable standard that they had put people at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire occurring. The investigation found that Mr Force had known that the premises did not have adequate means of escape in case of fire back in 2009. He had never made an application for the works despite the need to do so. Despite this, he continued to take rent from a vulnerable person for a number of years despite knowing that the flat was unsafe to occupy.
After the prosecution, Glen Wells, Business Safety Legal Support Officer said:
"Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service take the safety of people who work, live and visit Devon and Somerset very seriously.
Fire safety legislation is there for a reason, to ensure that people are safe in buildings should a fire occur and can safely evacuate should they need to do so.
Where building owners provide accommodation, they must do so with all the required and appropriate fire safety measures in place.
Where persons responsible for premises know that fire safety measures are poor and dangerous, or they knowingly allow poor fire safety standards, putting profits before safety, they will be held to account".
Mr Force pleaded guilty to all three charges from Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO). This includes:
- compartmentation, fire separation failures between the businesses and the flat (Article 8).
- not having completed a fire risk assessment for the premises (Article 9)
- failing to provide suitable means of escape in case of fire from the flat (Article 14).
The fines awarded were the maximum allowed under the sentencing rules.
Mr David Force was ordered to pay the full prosecution costs of £8659.00 and a victim's surcharge of £190.