Landmark Shropshire court case

21st September, 2010

Magistrates have ordered a Shropshire hotel manager to pay fines and costs totaling £5,355 in a landmark court case brought after the fire alarm failed to go off in the premises.

Nine residents were staying at the Plume of Feathers at Harley, near Shrewsbury, in the early hours of July 27 last year when the wife of the hotel manager opened the bedroom door to find smoke in the corridor.

Vikki Martin tried to raise the alarm by breaking the “break glass” call points but the fire alarm failed to operate. Her husband Michael and other members of staff had to knock on bedroom doors to wake guests.

“Any premises that provide sleeping accommodation are seen as a high life risk and life safety systems such as fire alarms should be maintained in working order.

The court heard that although the premises were fitted with a full automatic fire alarm and fire detection system, it had not been adequately tested by the manager and the alarm failed to operate and raise the sleeping occupants.

Mr Martin pleaded guilty at Shrewsbury Magistrates Court on Friday, September 17 to an offence under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It was the first case of its kind brought by Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Area Manager John Das-Gupta, responsible for Prevention and Protection, warned businesses that they must take responsibility for fire safety in business premises.

"As a service we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of public safety and as such if we identify any premises which are in contravention of the legislation, we will take action. This could result in prosecution."

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, which is the enforcing authority, has run a series of seminars for county firms, including hotels and B & B’s, over the past few years to educate owners and managers about their legal responsibilities for fire safety at their premises.

Despite difficult economic times it was important for businesses to safeguard people using their premises and not to “put aside” their statutory responsibilities. Appropriate fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, evacuation plans mixed with regular fire drills and employee training were essential in all business premises, he said.

He urged companies to contact Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service if they needed any information on how to compile a fire risk assessment and comply with the Fire Safety Order. Fire safety guidance books for businesses are available.

Managers are led through the whole process by the guide to initial Fire Risk Assessments which includes a series of fire safety questionnaires. More information is also available from the community fire safety department at Shrewsbury Fire Station on 01743 260260.