Company given record fine for breaching fire safety regulations

A property company has been fined almost 4 million pounds for breaches in fire safety regulations which killed an elderly women at a Surrey retirement home.

FirstPort Limited, formerly Peverel Management Services, was prosecuted by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service following a fatal fire at Gibson Court, Hinchley Wood in September 2011.

The property management firm, whose registered address is in Queensway, New Milton, Hants, pleaded guilty in July last year to four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

They are:

– failed to make a proper fire risk assessment of the building

– failed to take general fire precautions

– failed to maintain fire precautions including fire barriers in the roof space and

-failed to properly train staff in carrying out fire risk assessments and following emergency procedures.

Now , (April 11) the firm has been fined £360,000 and ordered to pay £100,000 in costs at Guildford Crown Court.

It is believed to be one of the biggest fines ever imposed for breaches of fire safety regulations.

Passing sentence, His Honour Judge Climie commended firefighters for their bravery in difficult circumstances on the night of the fire.

Following the sentencing, Nigel Gray, Assistant Group Commander at Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, said: “A fire which began in a television set spread rapidly across the retirement home’s entire roof and became a devastating blaze which forced firefighters to return several times to a burning building to rescue vulnerable residents and sadly led to the death of one of them.

“Our thoughts remain with the family of Irene Cockerton at this time.

“The fine imposed in this case is one of the biggest that we know of for a breach of fire safety regulations and we hope it sends a clear message to businesses to take seriously their responsibilities to keep people safe from fire.

“We will always work with businesses to help them comply with fire safety laws but where we find breaches which risk lives or serious injury we won’t hesitate to prosecute.”

The firm was fined £120,000 for each of the first two offences – relating to failures to make a proper risk assessment and take general fire precautions – £80,000 for the failure to maintain fire precautions and £40,000 for the failure over staff training.

The chief executive of FirstPort, Nigel Howell, said in a statement: “We are sincerely sorry for and deeply regret the fire in Gibson Court in 2011 that had the most tragic of consequences.  Our thoughts remain with the family of Mrs. Cockerton through what must have been a very difficult time.  Now that the case is concluded, I will be writing to them personally.

“As a company, we have co-operated fully with the investigations, accepted our responsibility and entered guilty pleas.

“We would like to reassure all our residents and their families that FirstPort Retirement is a very different company compared to six years ago.  We have new owners, a completely new management team and, as the judge has acknowledged, a much-improved approach to safety including policies, procedures and training.

“Again we are sorry for the fire, have applied the lessons, and safety is our number one priority.”