News

Fatal house fire leads to suspended prison sentence for Walthamstow landlord

Monday, September 28, 2015 - London Fire Brigade

A landlord has received a six month suspended jail sentence and been ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service for breaking fire safety laws which contributed to the deaths of two people at a fatal fire in a Walthamstow property. He was also ordered to pay £22,684 in prosecution costs.

Muhammad Ashraf pleaded guilty to four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and was sentenced on Friday 25 September 2015 at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Fatal fire

Thomas McCann, 60 and Hamza Zulfiqar, 21 died in the fire which occurred around 11pm, on 27 July 2011 at a property in Woodlands Road, London E17.

The house in multiple occupation (HMO) was owned by Mr Ashraf and contained five bedrooms, a shared kitchen and bathroom. Four fire engines and 20 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze that affected the ground floor, first floor and loft.

Mr McCann and Mr Zulfiqar were both living at the property at the time of the fire.

Thomas McCann was in the middle bedroom on the first floor and seemed to be unaware of the fire as it appears he made little or no effort to leave the house. Hamza Zulfiqar was in a rear ground floor bedroom and despite apparently making strenuous attempts to escape was sadly unable to.

Inspection

London Fire Brigade inspectors visited the house the next day and found a number of serious fire safety breaches including:

  • The front door was the only dedicated fire exit and was fitted with a mortice lock which, without use of a key, prevented it form being used in case of an emergency.
  • No fire detectors or smoke alarms.
  • No firefighting equipment.
  • No proper fire risk assessment was in place for the property.
  • None of the doors provided 30 minutes fire resistance in the event of a fire.

Speaking after the sentencing London Fire Brigade's Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Neil Orbell, said:

"It is a tragedy that two people’s lives have been lost as a direct result of fire safety failures and our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr McCann and Mr Zulfiqar.

"Landlords running houses of multiple occupation have a legal duty to keep their tenants safe from fire. The defendant has fallen extremely far short of the necessary fire safety standards which sadly contributed to this terrible loss of life.

"We will not hesitate in prosecuting anyone who ignores their fire safety responsibilities and I'd like to thank all the officers who worked tirelessly in bring this case to court."

New legislation

From Thursday 1 October 2015, all private landlords in England must fit smoke alarms on each floor of their rental properties and install carbon monoxide alarms in rooms containing solid fuel burning appliances, or face a possible  £5,000 penalty. More information is available here. Higher standards of fire precautions, including a protected means of escape from fire, apply when properties are in multiple occupation.

In preparation for the new legislation, landlords are being invited to claim free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms from London Fire Brigade, whilst stocks last.   

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