Owners of former care home where man died in arson attack fined £22,300 for safety breaches
The seven owners of a former care home where a man died in an arson attack have been fined £22,300 for fire safety failings.
Though not blamed for the tragedy, they were sentenced after pleading guilty to failing to comply with the management of houses in multi-occupancy.
Those hit with individual fines that ranged from £1,409 to £4,620 were Harbinder Kaur Bal, Jotinder Singh Bal, Harjinder Kaur Bal, Baljit Singh Dulai, Parveen Dulai, Harpreet Sahajpal and Navkirn Sahajpal.
At South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Kathryn Meek described the potential for harm caused by the defendants’ regulations’ defects as “high”.
While accepting their genuine remorse, she said she had to impose deterrent sentences for others operating in the multi-occupancy sector.
She said: “I consider the primary purpose of my sentence to be punishment and deterrent.
“The financial implications need to be felt by the defendants and it needs to be clear to them and others acting as landlords that it’s not more cost effective to avoid their obligations under the regulations than to take the appropriate precautions.”
She added: “Each accepts that they have fallen short. Ultimately, the defendants all accept that their actions fell short.”
The home was bought for £650,000 in February 2009, but closed in September 2015 when deemed inadequate by the Care Quality Commission.
When the fire took hold, it was operating as a house in multi-occupation, with 11 tenants.
Issues with locks were noted by Sunderland City Council inspectors in 2017.
And the day before the attack on Saturday, November 3, Northumbria Police officers had reported that parts of the building were “uninhabitable”.
The most serious matters were 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
And a linen store had no lock, a self-closing device or a 30-minute fire door, and a ground floor ceiling was in such a poor state water had made the floor “spongy”
Judge Meek told the hearing none of the defendants had any relevant recent convictions, all were hard-working and would likely have been impacted by the fire.
She added: “I acknowledge that some of the defendants have their own personal difficulties, all to greater or lesser extent, financial difficulties.
“I acknowledge there has been a significant amount of time since offending and sentence. This will no doubt have taken its toll on the defendants.
“Some of that delay was brought about by their initial not guilty pleas, but the vast majority was not caused by the defendants.
“Regrettably, a large part was brought about by the impact of the Covid pandemic.”
Harbinder Kaur Bal, of Main Road, Ovingham, Northumberland, was fined £3,028, with an £86 victim surcharge.
Jotinder Singh Bal, also of Main Road, Ovingham, was fined £2,824, with an £80 victim surcharge.
Harjinder Kaur Bal, of First Avenue, Morpeth, Northumberland, was fined £2,167, with an £61 victim surcharge.
Baljit Singh Dulai, of Coverley Road, Sunderland, was fined £4,620, with a £132 victim surcharge.
Parveen Dulai, also of Coverley Road, was fined £1,890, with a £54 victim surcharge.
Harpreet Sahajpal and Navkirn Sahajpal, both of Meadowbank Drive, Guidepost, Northumberland, were each fined £1,409, with a £40 victim surcharge.
Each must also pay £500 court costs.