Plug bedsit loophole - Prescott urged

DEPUTY prime minister John Prescott is today being asked to back a campaign to seal a legal loophole after two Suffolk teenagers were killed in a bedsit fire.

DEPUTY prime minister John Prescott is today being asked to back a campaign to seal a legal loophole after two Suffolk teenagers were killed in a bedsit fire.

Campaigners are stepping up the pressure to make student bedsits safer and say new laws will be a fitting memorial to Rob Giles, 18, and Will Stokes, 19.

The pair died when flames swept through their top-floor room in Holland Road, Felixstowe, engulfing them as they slept.

But it could take a private member's bill to force Parliament to take notice of the serious situation – unless Mr Prescott gives his backing.

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A year after the tragedy, lobbying is now taking place in earnest for a national review of the fire regulation laws for student accommodation.

Town councillors have teamed up with homelessness campaign group Shelter to spearhead the fight – backed by The Evening Star. They are demanding changes to the rules to force landlords to have fire-proof doors and walls, and escapes and alarms in all shared premises.

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At present "shared student accommodation" is not treated the same as other properties in multiple occupation – leaving parents of youngsters at college and university deeply worried over whether their children are safe.

Felixstowe town clerk Susan Robinson said: "We have been in touch with Shelter and they have been very helpful and are now looking into this issue.

"It seems likely that a private member's bill could be the answer to bring it to MPs attention and have new laws brought in. But we are also writing to the deputy prime minister's office and sending him all the details of the fire.

"We have also written to Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer and he is looking into the matter."

Nick Beacock, manager of Shelter's Campaign for Bedsit Rights, said the group would be very keen to take up the case.

He said: "Shelter has long been campaigning for the definition of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) to be clarified and strengthened so there is no room for doubt about what constitutes an HMO, and so health and safety standards are implemented to the benefit of students as of other tenants of HMOs.

"This needs to be a key aspect of the new licensing scheme for HMOs that the government has promised but failed to deliver."

Student housing is not defined as an HMO and is not required to have fire-resistant walls and doors, electronically-linked smoke detectors and alarms, or escapes. It is treated as a single household, because students share rooms such as the kitchen, lounge and bathroom.

Although smoke alarms in the hallway and landings went off at the property in Holland Road and alerted others living in the building, Will and Rob never woke up.

It is thought the fire was caused by a candle or a faulty TV set.


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