General, HP, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service

Property company ordered to pay £460,000 following fatal fire at Surrey retirement home

A property company was today ordered to pay fines and costs of £460,000 for fire safety breaches at a retirement home where an elderly woman died in a fire.

FirstPort Limited, formerly Peverel Management Services, was prosecuted by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service following a 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. These were for a failure to make a proper fire risk assessment of the building, a failure to take general fire precautions, a failure to maintain fire precautions including fire barriers in the roof space and a failure to properly train staff in carrying out fire risk assessments and following emergency procedures.

On Tuesday 11 April at Guildford Crown Court, the firm was fined £360,000 and ordered to pay £100,000 in costs, giving a total bill of £460,000. It is believed to be one of the biggest fines ever imposed for breaches of fire safety regulations.

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. 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.”

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