Taunton Crown Court

TAUNTON LANDLORD Nicola Selwood was given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, after pleading guilty to three breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO].

Somerset County Gazette reported on the prosecution of Ms Selwood in relation to a serious fire at her property in Taunton on 7 August 2018, where Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) attended and were told two men had evacuated the premises, ‘but someone may still have been inside the attic’. Crew wearing breathing apparatus searched for the missing person, but ‘it was later confirmed that everyone was out of the building’.

One man was treated for minor burns, and ‘it was believed the fire was accidental’, but after the incident DSFRS undertook an investigation to see if fire safety measures at the property met the standards of those governing houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). The investigation, undertaken alongside Taunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC), revealed that Ms Selwood had failed to undertake a fire risk assessment, and had also failed to provide a ‘suitable fire warning and detection system’.

To add to this, there was no ‘safe means of escape from the premises adequately protected by fire doors’; no emergency escape lighting ‘in case of mains electrical failure’; and from investigating the ground floor, because the top floor ‘was too damaged’, DSFRS – having spoken to tenants as well – was able to ‘establish that the only fire safety measure was a single fire detector at the base of the stairs’.

During the investigation, officers also found out that ‘as far back as 2008’, Ms Selwood had received several letters from TDBC regarding the property and its use as an HMO, including a schedule of required fire safety work. At this point, she had informed the council that she was ‘no longer renting out rooms’, but when questioned under caution she confirmed that ‘within a year’ she had been renting rooms out again ‘for up to seven people at a time’.

This had continued until the fire, and she also confirmed that none of the fire safety works specified in 2008 had been carried out, while DSFRS also established she had ‘recently spent money on converting the garage at the property to provide additional accommodation’. As a consequence, Ms Selwood was prosecuted at Taunton Crown Court this month, and pleaded guilty to three breaches of the FSO, receiving a nine month prison sentence suspended for 18 months.

The judge specifically referred to the fire’s cause and spread, which was ‘as a result of not implementing the fire safety measures that [DSFRS] and [TDBC] had informed her to do, in 2008’. As a consequence of this, the fire destroyed the house, ‘formerly her family home’, which is now uninhabitable and has left her £100,000 in debt ‘and with no income’.

DSFRS’ fire safety manager Pete Smith stated: ‘Ms Selwood was fully aware of her responsibilities as a landlady but failed to ensure the safety of her tenants. There is clear evidence that she put profit before safety. She knew that the fire safety measures in the premises were far below an acceptable standard but carried on renting it out for a number of years with no regard of the risks to the tenants.

‘I cannot emphasise enough the importance of carrying out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment and having the appropriate fire safety measures in place. It is extremely fortunate that the fire occurred during the day when most of the occupants were out. Had the fire started at a time when people were asleep, the outcome could have been very different.’