Hotel's £200K fine for fire safety failures

A SUFFOLK hotelier who put the lives of guests at risk by flouting fire safety regulations has been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling more than £200,000.

Jane Hunt

A SUFFOLK hotelier who put the lives of guests at risk by flouting fire safety regulations has been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling more than £200,000.

Sentencing John Nevins, who runs the Brandon House Hotel in the High Street, Brandon, Judge John Holt described his failures as “woeful”.

“The potential for risk of serious injury to guests while they slept in your hotel was considerable,” he told Ipswich Crown Court yesterday. “You took on this hotel as proprietor and as such you should have been aware of the need to comply with fire regulations and fire safety certificates. It is a basic duty and I am sure you knew of those duties from the outset.”

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Nevins, 59, of Hilborough Hall, Hilborough, admitted two offences of failing to notify the fire authority of structural alterations at the hotel and two offences of contravening the terms of a fire safety certificate. He asked for two offences to be considered.

Nevins, who the court heard has assets of £10million, was fined a total of £145,000 and ordered to pay £49,988 prosecution costs.

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He was also ordered to pay £8,039 defence costs which had been publicly funded in addition to what he has paid privately.

After the hearing Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service's Divisional Officer Kevin Burton said: “This sends a very clear message to businesses providing accommodation to the general public that it is their responsibility to ensure the safety of anybody staying on their premises. Suffolk Fire and Rescue will enforce serious breaches of fire regulations because there can be no compromise on fire standards in making Suffolk safer.”

Hugh Rowland, prosecuting, said Nevins became the owner of the 22-bedroom Brandon House Hotel in early 2003 and failed to notify the fire authority of plans to convert a function room into bedrooms.

During a fire inspection in January 2004 it was discovered that Nevins had divided the function room into two bedrooms.

“One of the bedrooms had no means of fire escape at all except through the other room,” said Mr Rowland.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue wrote to Nevins reminding him of his obligation to notify them before making any alterations but when officers returned to the hotel in May 2004 they found changes had been made to the second floor landing that put guests and staff at serious risk of death or injury in the event of a fire.

Officers were so concerned at the danger that they served a prohibition notice banning the use of the whole of the second floor of the hotel until changes had been made.

Nevins had also breached the requirements of a fire certificate by failing to provide adequate emergency lighting on staircases to help people escape in the event of a fire and failing to regularly test fire alarms at the hotel.

A door to the hotel's boiler room also failed to comply with fire safety standards and the key to a fire exit in the kitchen which should have been left unlocked or easy to open if it was locked was found in the reception area, said Mr Rowland.

Michael Clare for Nevins said that since the investigation his client had signed a document agreeing to co-operate with future inspections and he intended to make sure everything was up to scratch for an inspection in July.

Mr Clare said the period when alterations were being carried out had been a busy time for Nevins and he had relied on his architect to deal with administrative matters although he accepted it should have been his responsibility.

He now employed a general manager with specific experience in health and safety and hygiene, he said.

§ Any businesses requiring advice on compliance with fire safety regulations should contact the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service hotline 01473 260588.

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