Company prosecuted after Sidcup fire in which woman, 91, was taken to hospital

A fire in Sidcup sheltered accommodation block, which injured a 91-year-old woman, has led to one of the UK’s largest property service groups being prosecuted for breaking safety laws.

Four engines and over 20 firefighters were called to the blaze at Milton Lodge, part of the Countrywide Plc Group, which happened in April 2011.

On Monday (February 1) Countrywide Residential Lettings Ltd were given a £19,720 bill at Bexleyheath Magistrates Court.

They rescued the pensioner from her flat, where the fire started, and she was taken to hospital suffering from serious smoke inhalation as well as slight burns.

Two other elderly residents were also treated for smoke inhalation.

Once the flames were extinguished, safety officers from London Fire Brigade(LFB) carried out an inspection of the building – and raised a number of concerns.

These included failing to properly protect a staircase from fire, failing to maintain fire doors, fire doors being left wedged open, and failing to maintain smoke vents.

Countrywide were served with an enforcement notice in May, with a legal requirement to fix the breaches.

However, the company failed to address the issues – and LFB were left with no option but to prosecute.

The company was fined £5,600, and ordered to pay £14,000 prosecution costs to the Brigade and a £120 victim surcharge – a total bill of £19,720.

LFB’s assistant commissioner Neil Orbell said: “We are talking about very simple issues here that would have been very easy to resolve, but time and again Countrywide failed to comply with our legal Enforcement Notice.

“We were left with no option but to prosecute.

“This is a sheltered block for vulnerable older people so it beggar’s belief that anyone would not immediately address issues which could compromise their safety.

“I hope this successful prosecution serves as a reminder that fire safety can be a life or death issue and building owners, managers, leaseholders and landlords take it seriously at all times.

“If we find they are not we will not hesitate to prosecute them.

“The case also highlights the importance of carrying out a proper fire risk assessment and of employing someone who is qualified and competent to carry it out.”

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