Taunton landlord prosecuted after serious fire

A landlord has been prosecuted after a serious fire in a five bedroom home that had only one fire detector.

Nicola Selwood, the owner of 23 Holway Avenue in Taunton, has been handed a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months at Taunton Crown Court yesterday (Friday, February 19).

After a “serious fire” destroyed the property two years ago an investigation was carried out by fire safety officers.

They found that Selwood had only put in place one fire alarm for a house in multiple occupation that was home to up to seven people.

Fire safety manager, Pete Smith said it was “fortunate” the fire started in the day when the occupants were out, and had it been at night “the outcome could have been very different”.

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Back on August 7, 2018 firefighters from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service attended the serious fire at the property, which had five rooms available for rent.

On arrival, firefighters were told two men had evacuated but a person may still be inside in the attic.

Based on the information provided, and despite the deteriorating conditions, the crew wearing breathing apparatus tackled the blaze and searched for the missing person they believed to be trapped. It was later confirmed that everybody was out of the property.

The fire damage was extensive and the cause of the fire was accidental. One of the men who had evacuated suffered minor burns and was treated by an ambulance crew at the scene.

The fire gutted the property.
(Image: Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue)

Following the fire, fire safety officers investigated whether fire safety measures for the premises met the standards of a house in multiple occupation.

A single smoke alarm was found by fire safety officers to be the sole fire safety measure for a property that housed up to seven people.

The investigation, which was carried out with Somerset West and Taunton Council, revealed that the landlord had failed to carry out a fire risk assessment.

She had failed to provide a suitable fire warning and detection system, a safe means of escape from the premises adequately protected by fire doors, and emergency escape lighting in case of mains electrical failure.

Due to the severity and extent of fire damage, access to the premises by investigating officers was limited to the ground floor.

However, they were able to establish from what remained and the tenants that the only fire safety measure in the house was a single fire detector, located at the base of the stairs.

As the investigation went on, officers discovered that as far back as 2008, Selwood had received several letters from Taunton Deane Borough Council about the property and its use as HMO.

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

What was left of the attic
(Image: Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue)

When questioned under caution, 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 Selwood had recently spent money on converting the garage at the property to provide additional accommodation.

Fire safety manager, Pete Smith said: “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.”

In court yesterday the judge explained how the fire came about and spread due to there not being proper fire safety measures.

The incident has left the property, formerly her family home, uninhabitable and left her £100,000 in debt.

Before her appearance in court yesterday Selwood had previously pleaded guilty to three offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

In a statement, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said:” The Service welcomes today’s outcome and believes it sends a clear message to the business community that their duties under fire safety legislation must not be ignored.”

Fire safety advice and guidance can be found on the government’s website here.

Alternatively, contact the DSFRS fire safety helpdesk on 01392 872567.

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