Victory for Star in bedsits safety fight

SPRINKLER systems will be installed in some bedsit properties following a horrific fire in which two Suffolk teenagers were killed, today's Evening Star exclusively revealed.

By Richard Cornwell

SPRINKLER systems will be installed in some bedsit properties following a horrific fire in which two Suffolk teenagers were killed, it was revealed today.

Details of the countywide project are to be unveiled soon as part of a new package of measures to improve fire safety at houses in multiple occupation.

Experts say if sprinklers had been installed at the house where Rob Giles, 18, and Will Stokes, 19, were living in Holland Road, Felixstowe, it is likely they would still be alive today.

The pair died in a blaze caused by either a candle or a faulty TV set. Smoke engulfed their top-floor room and the teenagers never woke up.

Council housing officials say the property had been turned into a house of bedsits without planning permission just a few days before the tragedy.

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Principal environmental health officer at Suffolk Coastal council, Peter Kerridge said the landlord – who has not been named – had been told when he purchased the property that planning restrictions prohibited the house from being used for multiple occupation (HMO) and the fire protection measures were not adequate.

The coroner at the inquest in the lads' deaths though felt no one would ever know whether their deaths could have been prevented, even if precautions had been in place.

HMOs are required to have fire-proof doors and walls, electronically-linked smoke detectors and alarms, and escapes.

Sprinklers are not necessary, but a joint project between the Suffolk Fire Service and all local authorities in the county have now decided they should be fitted.

In a letter to town councillors, Mr Kerridge said: "As an alternative to some structural fire separation we will in certain cases be advocating the installation of residential sprinklers.

"This is a complete departure from official guidance but is something which has been trialed in Watford and has an excellent record in North America, where there have not been any reported deaths in houses where sprinklers have been properly installed.

"In fires like the one in Holland Road sprinklers would have been more likely to save lives."

It had originally been thought that the property in Holland Road was student accommodation, but this was not so. Town councillors had been hoping to team up with Shelter to campaign to seal a loophole in the law so that both student bedsits and HMOs would be treated the same.

"The house was not at the time of the fire being used as shared student accommodation as we had initially thought to be the case," said Mr Kerridge.

"Rooms in the house were being let to individuals who had no link whatsoever to occupiers of other parts of the house. The occupation of the house in this manner was contrary to the planning status for the property."

Meanwhile, a campaign has been launched to improve fire safety in country and stately homes after the death of Tory backbench MP Michael Colvin and his wife Nichola.

Their son Jamie Cayzer-Colvin launched his campaign in Bury St Edmunds, saying that a fireguard and a simple smoke alarm at the family home near Andover would have saved his parents' lives.

He wants owners of larger properties to have visits from fire safety officers to give advice to prevent similar tragedies happening.

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