“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.”
Pete Smith, Fire Safety Manager
Ms Nicola Selwood was the owner of a two-storey end of terrace house at 23 Holway Avenue, Taunton. She had been providing five rooms to let there. However, on the 19 February 2021, she was given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, at Taunton Crown Court. This follows her pleading guilty to three offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
After the fire, our fire safety officers began to investigate alongside Taunton Deane Borough Council (now Somerset West and Taunton Council) whether fire safety measures for the premises met the standards of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).
Ms Selwood had failed to carry out a fire risk assessment, meaning she failed to provide:
- a suitable fire detection system
- a safe means of escape from the building adequately protected by fire doors, and
- emegency escape lighting in case of mains electrical failure.
The house was so severely damaged that officers could only investigate the ground floor. However, from what remained and what tenants revealed, they found that the only fire safety measure in the house was a single fire detector, located at the base of the stairs.
As our investigation continued, we 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 also confirmed that none of the fire safety works specified in 2008 had been carried out. We discovered Ms Selwood had recently spent money on converting the garage at the property to provide additional accommodation.
“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.”
Pete Smith, Fire Safety Manager
As a Service, we take the safety of people that live, work and visit Devon and Somerset very seriously. Where those responsible for the safety of others fail to carry out their duties and those failures put lives at risk, we will take all necessary action to ensure the matters are dealt with appropriately. We only take legal action in the courts where it identifies failures so serious that there has been a significant risk to people’s safety.
We welcome this case’s outcome and believes it sends a clear message to the business community that their duties under fire safety legislation must not be ignored.
List of offences
As listed in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005:
Article 9 - failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons were exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions you needed to take to comply with the requirements imposed upon you by or under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005,
Article 13 - failed to ensure that the premises were, to an appropriate extent, equipped with sufficient fire detecting equipment and alarm sounders,
Article 14 - failed to ensure, where necessary, in order to safeguard the safety of relevant persons, that in the event of danger, it was possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and as safely as possible in that there was an inadequate means of escape due to:
- the doors in the property were not of appropriate fire resisting construction and there were no self-closures fitted thereby not offering a protected means of escape
- no emergency escape lighting being present on the escape route.
The failures having placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire.