The owner of a block of flats where two young jockeys died in an arson attack has been jailed for 12 months for fire regulation breaches after a judge said he had shown “complete disregard” for the safety of residents.
Sentencing Alan Foster at Leeds Crown Court yesterday Judge Geoffrey Marson QC said the case involved “deeply disturbing” safety breaches which were obvious hazards and continued at his other premises after the fatal fire.
He said it was impossible to say what would have been the outcome for the two jockeys had proper fire precautions been taken. “It is clear, however, that their deaths would have been significantly less likely but for these breaches.”
Jamie Kyne, 18, and Jan Wilson, 19, were trapped in a second floor flat at Buckrose Court, Norton in North Yorkshire when a former caretaker Peter Brown started a blaze in rubbish stored beneath a stairwell after being refused entry to a party in another flat.
Judge Marson said that fire in 2009 resulted from the unlawful actions of Brown, who was later convicted and jailed for manslaughter but Foster’s culpability was high.
He was well aware of the stored rubbish, which included furniture and tins of paint and wood treatment, since most of it was his, and a resident had complained of the dangers.
“It would have been perfectly obvious to you that there was a clear risk that if this rubbish caught fire the consequences for those in the flats, particularly those upstairs, would be very serious.”
In the neighbouring flats inspection revealed no fire-fighting equipment in the stairs or communal area, no signage of what to do in case of a fire and red protective covers on smoke detectors which should have been removed.
“These were simple matters which should easily have been identified and obviated as part of a routine risk assessment and they could have been rectified without a good deal of expenditure.”
Brown’s fire quickly spread, some residents from the first floor and two from the second floor managed to escape by jumping from windows but Miss Wilson from Scotland and Mr Kyne from Co Galway were overcome by smoke.
A prohibition notice was served on Foster on September 8 involving the flats unaffected by the fire and by October 15 Foster had done nothing about the deficiencies including material stored under a second staircase.
As a result of their concerns fire officers visited the nearby Buckrose House which Foster then also owned which was being converted to 12 flats. Again he had carried out no risk assessment and he agreed to do so, only complying after an enforcement notice was served in October.
However when officers visited Buckrose House again in August 2011 further deficiencies were discovered including combustible material stored in a room where the fire alarm panel was located and it was obstructing an emergency exit route.
Judge Marson told Foster: “It is perfectly clear to me that despite all that happened in 2009 and despite being interviewed in 2010 you were unwilling to ensure the safety of residents. This was in part, not doubt, because you were unwilling to bear the relatively modest expense.”
Foster, 65, who lived in a cottage at Buckrose Court, admitted four charges, two of failing to take reasonable fire precautions and two of failing to make a risk assessment at the two premises involved.
Philip Standfast, for Foster, said he had never intended to become a landlord, it had been planned to sell all the flats but the property crash in 2008 curtailed that.
He found himself having to rent out the properties and realised he should have sought further advice about any changes that might involve. He was not an absentee landlord “cocking a snook” to the dangers since he living in an adjacent property. He was financially ruined, now over £1m in debt.