Care home owner pleads guilty to fire safety offences

Care home owner pleads guilty to fire safety offences

NEWGRANGE OF Cheshunt Limited, which owns the Newgrange Care Home in the town, pleaded guilty to the offences after two residents died in a fire at the home in 2017.

Hertfordshire County Council reported on the guilty plea from the company after the case, which was brought after two residents died in a fire at the home in April 2017. In the early hours of 8 April an electrical fault caused a fire, which spread to the home’s roof space, and at that time there were 35 elderly residents, 30 of whom were ‘not independently mobile’ and five of whom were over 100 years old.

During its response Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) rescued 33 of the residents, but 88 year old Daphne Holloway and 91 year old Ivy Spriggs died, with Newgrange admitting the five counts of breaching fire safety. The council added that the counts ‘each involve an admission that they breached their duty imposed by fire safety law’, with the breaches ‘such that they put the residents of the care home at risk of death or serious harm’.

In mitigation, the company stated that it had a ‘mature and industrious’ approach to fire safety, with no previous warnings to ‘indicate any risk’, and it expressed its ‘profound regret that someone in their care should be harmed, let alone lose their life’. No evidence was offered by the prosecution in relation to identical charges against its director Nicholas Meyer and the registered care home manager Alison Wood.

In sentencing the company, the judge said he had taken into account the company’s guilty plea, and that there were no previous convictions, and accepted that before the fire there had been a good health and safety record. However, he also pointed to the fact that there had been a ‘complete failure to consider or concentrate’ on resident safety ‘as opposed to the safety of employees’.

The judge also praised the ‘excellence and bravery’ of the HFRS firefighters, as well as drawing attention to how seven of them had been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for the ‘large number of rescues that were carried out’. He sentenced the company to pay a £175,000 fine and £170 victim surcharge, and they will also have to pay ‘reasonable prosecution costs’, but those are ‘subject to further negotiation’.

Daryl Keen, chief fire officer for HFRS, said that HFRS have ‘undergone’ a further programme of inspection of the county’s care homes, in order to ‘ensure that they all fully comply with fire safety legislation. He also commented: ‘Our thoughts remain with the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy and today’s judgement hopefully goes some way towards easing their suffering.

‘Our fire crews worked extremely hard on that morning and successfully rescued many of the residents but it still weighs heavy that we were unable to save two of them. I would also like to place on record my thanks to Hertfordshire Constabulary for their assistance both during the incident and subsequent investigation.  This incident highlights the need for all business owners to ensure they fully comply with fire safety legislation.

‘If enough competent staff had been present and properly trained to carry out long-established and recognised guidance on evacuations in a care home I am sure that a full evacuation would have been started long before our arrival. Evacuation of a care home is a difficult task and needs to be properly considered and practiced so that everyone can escape unharmed.

‘We continue to advocate the fitting of sprinkler or other fire suppression systems, particularly to any building where the occupants suffer from mobility issues.’