Court hears of catalogue of errors found before fatal fire at the Manor House Care Home
A court heard how a series of housing rule breaches were discovered at a home – including its fire alarm – before a blaze claimed the life of one of its tenants.
The seven owners of the Manor House Care Home, in Easington Lane, have admitted four charges of failing to comply with the management of houses in multi-occupancy.
Sunderland Magistrates’ Court heard problems with locks were noted by Sunderland City Council in 2017 before Northumbria Police officers reported parts were “uninhabitable” just the day before the arson attack which killed Patryk Mortimer, 39, on Saturday, November 3, 2018.
Declan Lancaster, 24, is to be sentenced next month after admitting manslaughter by starting a fire in a linen store – one of the problem areas reported – with the case featured in last week’s BBC One documentary Our Cops in the North.
Sue Hirst, prosecuting on behalf of the council, detailed the four matters before District Judge Kathyrn Meek:
*Mortice locks on some bedrooms, rather than thumb-turn locks allowing escape without a key, raised by the council and still in use after the fire
*A linen store had no lock, a self-closing device or a 30-minute fire door
*A ground floor ceiling in such a poor state water had made the floor “spongy”
*The fire alarm key was left in situ, allowing anyone to override it
Miss Hirst said: “Each of these breaches had the potential to place tenants in danger of death in the event of a fire due to the risk the alarm would not activate and/or that they were not able to evacuate the building if a fire had already taken hold.”
She explained the home, bought for £650,000 in February 2009, was closed in September 2015 when it was deemed inadequate by the Care Quality Commission.
It was turned into a house in multi-occupation, with 11 tenants at the time of the fire.
Graham Jamieson, for all seven family members, said they are also involved in conveniences stores, with the property now with receivers.
He detailed their financial difficulties, added to by the pandemic and Brexit, said they had been unable to afford a staff member to oversee the accommodation.
They are: Harbinder Kaur Bal and Jotinder Singh Bal, of Eddybruff House, Ovingham; Harjinder Kaur Bal, of First Avenue, Morpeth; Baljit Singh Dulai and Parveen Dulai, of Coverley Road, Sunderland, Harpreet Sahajpal and Navkirn Sahajpal, of Meadowbank Drive, Guidepost.
Mr Jamieson said: “The remorse that is shown by all seven defendants is mostly in relation to the death of Patryk, who they describe as a rather jolly person.
"Unfortunately some of the people that were resident there had fallen on hard times and criminality and they were very disappointed, they hoped that it would be a new start for these people.
He said the store door had helped hold back the fire and had no lock because care home residents would wander in; roof repairs were carried out above the damaged ceiling and thumb turn locks were bought but taken, but conceded the fire alarm’s management was “surely lacking”, with trust put in a tenant to handle it.
The case was adjourned until Tuesday, July 20, for sentencing.