A FORMER restaurant boss who put customers’ lives at risk has been forced to prove he has no cash to pay a fine.
A judge said the fire safety breaches by Jahangir Quereshi at the Thai Manor, in Sunderland, put the lives of those using the building under peril and could have created a “disastrous ending”.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the four-storey building was registered as only a restaurant with kitchens.
But when fire chiefs carried out a spot check, they found the premises was packed with staff and students living in the potential deathtrap.
The unauthorised tenants included four staff members living in the basement – where the one smoke alarm that was installed had been taped up and the one entrance was partially blocked.
Six Thai students were found renting the bedrooms on the first and second floor, which were close to kitchens and had no fire alarms at all.
Prosecutor Michael Graham told the court there was a smoke alarm on the ground floor, which would not be heard by those renting the rooms upstairs.
He said: “There was no means of warning people on the upper floors, who would have been unaware of the situation and potentially asleep.”
Mr Graham said one fire exit at the premises was secured with a cycle lock and another was double bolted, making them virtually useless in an emergency.
Exits from the building were partially blocked with possessions such as clothing and stock.
Quereshi was convicted of eight fire safety breaches by magistrates last month and faced a substantial fine when he attended crown court for sentence yesterday.
But his barrister Jamie Adams told the court that the married dad has no cash and is looking for work.
Mr Adams said: “As far as the property itself is concerned, there is a total of £55,000 in back rent owed to the council.
“There is also a £70,000 loan with NatWest for which he is responsible.”
Mr Adams said Quereshi, who owns one house which he rents out and another that he lives in, has now made a claim for benefits for himself, his wife and the three children who live at home.
“Mr Recorder Camp said he was not prepared to accept there was “no monies anywhere” and ordered Quereshi to have his properties valued before the hearing next month.
The judge said he also wanted to see accounts from the business, which has now closed.
The judge said: “This is a serious case. The lives of his customers, the staff and the students were at risk.”
The court heard Quereshi could be ordered to carry out unpaid work if he is able to prove he is unable to pay a fine.
Quereshi, 51, of Corporation Road, Hendon, Sunderland, was granted bail until the next hearing in May.
Fire safety station manager Richard Rickaby said after the raid last October that a blaze at the restaurant could have proved fatal, as the fire service had no record that anyone was living at Thai Manor.
He said: “In terms of fire safety, they were very serious offences, because it was across the whole plethora of fire safety and it was not just one deficiency.
“It had the potential for the fire to go unnoticed and for the fire to spread.
“It did have the potential to have fatalities.”