Guest house proprietor ordered to pay £24,000 for breaching fire safety regulations

Wed 8 Jun, 2016


The proprietor of a guest house in Milton Keynes has been ordered to pay a total of £24,168.29 for serious breaches of fire safety regulations after pleading guilty to 10 charges brought under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.  

Ms Nicole Harris, owner and responsible person of a house providing letting accommodation at 2 Titchmarsh Court, Oldbrook, appeared before Milton Keynes Magistrates Court for sentencing on Monday (6 June 2016).

Prosecuting Advocate informed the court that Ms Harris, also known as Ms Nicola Hunter, had pleaded guilty to eight charges at a previous hearing before the court on 26 February 2016 for failing to take adequate fire precautions in respect of the premises, and a further two summary charges for obstructing fire officers in the line of duty.

Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority brought the charges following an inspection of the premises by fire safety officers on 18 June 2015 after receiving a fire safety complaint from Milton Keynes Council housing officers.  The inspection identified significant and serious contraventions of fire safety regulations which led to the issue of a prohibition notice.

These included:

  • Inadequate fire protection for fire escape routes.
  • Combustible storage material within the fire escape route.
  • An inadequate fire warning system.
  • No fire risk assessment.
  • No firefighting equipment.
  • A failure to comply with the requirements of a Prohibition Notice.

Magistrates heard that Ms Harris, who was sole proprietor and landlord of the premises, had continued to let parts of the premises for sleeping guests despite the service of a prohibition notice which expressly prohibited the premises from accommodating sleeping guests.

In mitigation presented by the defence, the court was informed of Ms Harris's regret and failure to appreciate her obligations under the regulations over these offences. Her previous character was described as exemplary with no previous convictions.

In summing up, Magistrates fined the defendant a total of £16,000 for the 10 offences together with a victim surcharge payment of £15, and awarded full costs of £8,153.29 in favour of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority. In mitigation, the defence informed the court that Ms Harris was currently in a very difficult financial position, and in consideration directed that she been given time to pay.

Station Commander Ian Wilson, head of the fire safety enforcement team in Milton Keynes, said afterwards: “In line with the Regulators’ Code, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service works closely with local businesses in Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire to support economic growth.

"We will continue to provide fire safety advice and guidance and work hand-in-hand with businesses who seek our help to improve their fire safety. At the other end of the scale, law-abiding businesses deserve a level playing field and expect us to prosecute people who recklessly breach fire safety legislation to gain an unfair economic advantage - indeed, we are obliged by law to enforce the Fire Safety Order.

"Prohibition notices are legal notices and are only served where, in the event of fire, the risk of death or serious injury is so serious that use of the premises must be restricted or prohibited. By allowing vulnerable people to sleep in her guest house, when she knew a prohibition notice was in place, the defendant recklessly put these people's lives at risk. To compound matters, she lied to inspecting officers and deliberately tried to mislead them.  

"This case demonstrates that Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is dedicated to public safety and, where necessary, will not hesitate to enforce fire safety legislation. We will continue to work to seek out high-risk and poorly-managed premises and take appropriate action against those who blatantly ignore fire safety legislation.

"However, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service will always work together with those willing to address their own fire safety issues, and businesses can be assured that we will continue to support them in complying with the Fire Safety Order.

"If anyone believes they have fire safety issues, it is our policy not to prosecute but to work together to find a solution."

Anybody seeking assistance in understanding the requirements of the law is invited to contact the fire safety office in Milton Keynes on 01908 236413 or by emailing miltonkeynesfiresafety@bucksfire.gov.uk