A Sunderland shop owner has been told to pay £1,700 after failing to comply with fire safety laws.
Usman Ali, who owns Ray’s Discount Store in Villette Road, Hendon, was fined for failing to reply to Article 27 letters sent by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service under of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
He was also ordered to pay the full amount of legal costs totalling £600, plus a victim surcharge of £100.
Mr Ali did not attend the initial court hearings earlier this year, and, after deciding to proceed in his absence, Sunderland magistrates found the case brought against him by Tyne and Wear Fire Authority proven on March 29.
Mr Ali told the Echo that he never received the letters and had he done so, he would have responded to them. However, the service said it gives business owners 'every opportunity' to comply before taking action.
The court heard that an officer from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service went to the store on August 23, 2016, to carry out a fire safety audit.
However, as there was only one staff member present and Mr Ali was unavailable, it was not possible to conduct the audit at this time.
Article 27 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 gives fire officers the power to require the owner of a business to allow them full access to inspect the premises and provide information in relation to fire precautions.
The service claimed they made every effort by to contact Mr Ali by telephone and in writing, and that he failed repeatedly to co-operate by disregarding requests for appointments, including two Article 27 letters.
The case was re-opened today and Ali pleaded guilty.
Mr Ali told the Echo after the case that he has worked closely with the fire service in the past, and that he is disappointed that they had not written to him at the address he is registered at, as a director of the business.
He said the first letter had been handed to a member of staff at the shop - one of seven convenience stores that he runs in the area - and had not been passed onto him.
The second letter, he had been told was sent by first class post, and it never arrived.
He said: "I have seven stores and 45 members of staff.
"The fire service have just walked in and asked for the manager and dropped off a letter when the store has been very busy.
"These are minimum wage staff, they are not qualified to have this kind of responsibility.
"They took me straight to court which I thought a bit strange when they should have made their their best efforts to hand it to the right person.
"They never wrote to any of my registered addresses.
"It's not foolproof - it leaves people open to mistakes.
"If the fire service are going to prosecute people they should do their best to get in touch."
Area Manager Keith Carruthers, from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said after the case: “We only prosecute as a last resort and give business owners every opportunity to comply before enforcement action is taken.
“It is always our preferred option to work closely with the business community to provide education and information, ensuring the safest environment for their employees and customers.
“But where necessary we will not hesitate to exercise our legal powers to ensure the safety of the public and our firefighters.
“We welcome the court’s decision in this case and hope that it serves as a reminder to other businesses that they have a duty to respond to our requests for information.”