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Surrey Fire and Rescue Service wins landmark court case against unsafe vessel on River Thames

After almost two years, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has won a landmark court case against an extremely unsafe vessel on the River Thames.

The 10-bedroomed vessel ‘RoR’ (also known as Rhythm of the River) was being used as a bed and breakfast style resort for both long and short-term stays.

The case started on Thursday 11 April 2019 when Fire Safety Officers from SFRS inspected ‘RoR’. As a result, on Thursday 25 April 2019 Alistair Trotman was served with an enforcement notice under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This confirmed that Mr Trotman had failed to comply with fire safety regulations and that the vessel was unsafe for people residing there.

The court heard from a witness who had stayed on the boat and immediately reported worrying safety concerns. Issues with the vessel included, but are not limited to:

  • the lack of an appropriate fire alarm system
  • non-fire-resistant doors
  • no emergency lighting
  • the main source of heating was provided by a log burner situated in the middle of the corridor on the lower deck which those staying were being asked to top up at night
  • a number of exposed electrical connectors
  • the only means of escape was a floating pontoon anchored to the side of the RoR. This meant people having to either enter the river or scramble up the steep slope of the riverbank to escape in case of fire.

The enforcement notice set out nine actions which Mr Trotman would need to undertake in order to comply with the requirements of the Fire Safety Order and a 16-week period to achieve this compliance. 

Mr Trotman appealed the notice to Guildford Magistrates Court which was dismissed by District Judge Wattam on Thursday 28 November 2019. His later appeal to the Crown Court was also dismissed after a two-day hearing in November 2020. The court said, “We are satisfied that the provisions of the Fire Safety Order 2005 applied to RoR at the time the decision to serve a notice was taken. It was appropriate for SFRS to serve that notice. We do not consider the measures proposed by them to be disproportionate or onerous and Mr Trotman’s arguments as to why the decision to serve a notice was wrong lacked credibility.”

Mr Trotman is required to pay £39,383.20 in court costs.

Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Protection which includes SFRS, Denise Turner Stewart, said, “This landmark case will now pave the way for future court cases like this. It is the result of some very hard work by our dedicated Fire Safety Protection Team and we thank them for their perseverance with this matter. The team work with businesses every day to help ensure that they, their employees and customers are safe – our Fire Safety Protection Team take enforcement action only when absolutely necessary. I am in no doubt that their actions have worked towards preventing an emergency and keeping Surrey residents and visitors safe.”

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service delivers business safety visits to help businesses comply with fire safety and keep themselves safe. Please visit www.surreycc.gov.uk/people-and-community/fire-and-rescue/businesses to get in touch with the team.

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