Dawlish coastline

An estate agent in Dawlish has received the maximum allowed fine for breaches of fire safety regulations at a residential property.

David Force, now retired but formerly of Force and Sons estate agents, pleaded guilty to three charges at Newton Abbot Magistrates Court on Monday 15 August. The breaches were found at Mr Force’s property at 9 Queen Street and related to the flat above the commercial let on the ground floor.

Business safety officers from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) investigated the property in 2021, and found a number of concerns, including “a lack of suitable means of escape in case of fire, structural failures, and the absence of a fire risk assessment.”

The safety officers decided the premises were too “dangerous” for the tenant, who was considered vulnerable due to their age and disabilities, and that they couldn’t stay in the property “with immediate effect.” The officers said that this was “because if a fire were to occur on the ground floor the person in the flat above would not be able to make their escape safely.”

According to safety officers, this was because if a fire were to break out on the ground floor, the occupier of the flat, who was considered to be vulnerable as they were elderly with disabilities, would not be able to escape safely.

DSFRS described the conditions at the premises following their investigation in 2021 as “so far below an acceptable standard that they had put people at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire occurring.”

They also added that “Mr Force had known that the premises did not have adequate means of escape in case of fire back in 2009. He had never made an application for the works despite the need to do so. Despite this, he continued to take rent from a vulnerable person for a number of years despite knowing that the flat was unsafe to occupy.”

Glen Wells, Business Safety Legal Support Officer for DSFRS, said:

"Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service take the safety of people who work, live and visit Devon and Somerset very seriously.

Where persons responsible for premises know that fire safety measures are poor and dangerous, or they knowingly allow poor fire safety standards, putting profits before safety, they will be held to account."

Mr Force pleaded guilty to all three charges brought under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), which included:

  • compartmentation – fire separation failures between the businesses and the flat (Article 8) 
  • not having completed a fire risk assessment for the premises (Article 9)
  • failing to provide suitable means of escape in case of fire from the flat (Article 14).

The fines awarded were the highest permitted under the sentencing rules. They would have been higher, but the defence argued that “the weekly income of Mr David Force was £389.24.”

Mr Force was ordered to pay costs of £8659.00 and a victim's surcharge of £190.