Chester hotel prosecuted for unacceptable fire safety risks

A hotel in Chester has been ordered to pay £45,000 after an audit by the Cheshire Fire Authority uncovered significant fire safety breaches.

In 2019, Cheshire Fire Authority carried out fire audits at Mollington Banastre Hotel in Chester, which is owned and managed by Brook Hotels No1 Ltd and where several fire safety breaches were noted. As reported by the Chester Standard, the authority prohibited the owners from using the second floor of the premises, containing 12 guest bedrooms, until the fire safety issues had been rectified.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) eventually brought a prosecution against the hotel owner and management company after it failed to make the “required improvements following [the] fire audits”.

At a hearing on 16 November 2023, Chester Crown Court heard that there was an “unacceptable risk” to the fire escape route on the second floor of the hotel, which included “uneven surfaces” and a ladder. Chester Fire Authority had also alerted Brook Hotels No1 to the lack of emergency lighting, deficient fire doors, and a lack of an emergency plan. Prosecuting on behalf of CFRS was Joseph Hart who stated that the company, and its director Ashok Ummat, had shown a “wilful blindness to the risk of offending” and a “systematic failure to act” on the fire safety issues that had been identified. It was believed that for a period of one month in 2019, guests were still occupying the second floor in spite of the prohibition.

As the newspaper reports, although it was acknowledged that the premises had a fire alarm and procedures in place where “many residents would have made their way to safety without any difficulty at all” if a fire had occurred, Judge Recorder Michael Hayton KC stated that during that one-month period, there "remained a risk to residents at the second floor", with the risk becoming even greater while they slept.

"This is a long-established, well-respected local business that employs local people,” he added.

Defending the hotel owner, Richard Matthews, noted that Ummat, aged 70, had had a long career in the hotel business, adding that this hotel like many others had been hit hard during the pandemic. “With hindsight, he should have done more," he said.

The successful prosecution by CFRS saw the hotel responsible for the fire safety failings at the premises. Brook Hotels No1 Ltd was fined £45,000 along with £20,000 in prosecution costs. Additionally, Ummat was ordered to pay £2,000.