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Landlord avoids jail after fire leaves tenant fighting for life

A Coventry-based landlord has avoided a prison sentence over fire safety offences after his tenant suffered life-threatening burns to 40% of his body when he was trapped in his room in a multi-occupancy house due to a fire deliberately started by another tenant. 

At Warwick Crown Court landlord Simon Fox escaped jail after pleading guilty to not having proper fire safety precautions in place at his buy-to-let property in Humber Road, Coventry.

The arson incident, which happened in January 2011, occurred after an intoxicated ground-floor resident, who has since been jailed for three years, started a fire in her room.

Most of the other residents were asleep, and two were trapped in their first-floor rooms and had to be rescued by the fire brigade, with one tenant, David Lennon, suffering severe burns.  

Mark Jackson, prosecuting on behalf of the West Midlands Fire Service, explained: “He [Lennon] opened his door, but by then the fire had taken hold and he could not get down the stairs. He was beaten back by a blast of heat and was trapped in his room.

“He tried to get out of the bedroom window, but the gap was too small; and the next thing he could remember was waking up in the burns unit of a London hospital.”

Lennon was rescued by firefighters who had discovered him unconscious in his room and was rushed to University Hospital in Coventry before being transferred to a specialised burns unit in London, while other residents had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Jackson added: “He was in a critical condition, and his family were told he might not make it. He had burns to 40% of his body.

“He has had eight operations and 17 skin grafts, and he has lost his employment and his relationship has broken down as a result.”

An investigation revealed there was no interlinked automatic fire detection system, and although there were some individual smoke detectors, the one in the kitchen, where there was no fire blanket, had no battery in it.

There were no smoke detectors in one of the ground floor bedrooms and two of the first-floor rooms, including Mr Lennon’s. 

Fox was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for two years and ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Stephen Eyre QC also fined him £25,000 to be paid by the end of August 2017, with 15 months in prison in default, and £24,300 costs.

The judge told Fox: “The ensuring of proper fire precautions in properties in multi-occupation is a matter of life and death. It is no exaggeration to say that, it is a literal truth.

“This is far from a reckless disregard for the safety of tenants, but you did not take the precautions you should have taken,” he added. 

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