Landlord will not face prosecution

A LANDLORD who turned a house into bedsits without permission and without adequate fire precautions will NOT face prosecution – despite the deaths of two teenagers.

A LANDLORD who turned a house into bedsits without permission and without adequate fire precautions will NOT face prosecution – despite the deaths of two teenagers.

The Evening Star can reveal today that council officials have no grounds in law on which to press for court action for either the lack of planning consent or the need for fire safety improvements.

The house in Holland Road, Felixstowe, had been bedsits just two weeks when fire broke out in the top floor room where Will Stokes and Rob Giles were staying.

Will, 19, and Rob, 18, never woke up as the blaze – caused by either a candle or a faulty TV set – took hold and smoke engulfed the room.

Even though the landlord was told when he bought the property that it could not be bedsits, he still went ahead and converted it and rented out rooms.

But he failed to put in proper fire escapes to the upper floors or to put in place a number of other safety measures.

Most Read

Council planning and environmental health officials have carried out a full investigation but say the laws do not allow a prosecution of the landlord, who has not been named and is thought to live abroad.

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said the council could only prosecute for the lack of adequate fire precautions and escape if a schedule of works needing to be done had been issued to the property owner.

However, no schedule was issued because the property had not been inspected.

The planning front is more complicated because people can, and often do, use premises for unauthorised purposes without seeking council consent – even when they know such a use is prohibited.

"We can only prosecute if the premises have been identified to us as having no consent and we have issued an enforcement notice against that use and the notice has then been breached," said the spokesman.

"Even then, the council has to give a reasonable amount of time for the property owner to comply to allow them to find alternative premises, or in this case new homes for the tenants."

This means unauthorised uses can sometimes continue for six to 12 months.

The Holland Road house was used as bed and breakfast accommodation, and then in 1984 a planning application was made to turn it into six bedsits.

This was refused by the council because the property needed more safety work done in case there was a fire. Two years later permission was granted for it to be used as a family home.

Principal environmental health officer at Suffolk Coastal, Peter Kerridge said all houses in multiple occupation should have fire escapes and protection such as fire-proof doors and walls, electronically-linked smoke detectors and alarms.

In a letter to Felixstowe Town Council, he said: "The landlord had been told at the time of purchase that he was prohibited, by planning restrictions, from occupying the house in this manner and the landlord should have carried out fire protection works."

The coroner at the inquest into the lads' deaths though felt no-one would ever know whether their deaths could have been prevented, even if precautions had been in place, because of the nature and severity of the blaze.

Sprinklers are now to be put into some bedsit properties as a part of a joint project between the Suffolk Fire Service and all local authorities.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter