“Residents were put at risk of death or serious injury”: Leeds Student Halls in Breach of Fire Safety Orders

Newly built student accommodation Trinity Hall, on Holburn Approach, Woodhouse in Leeds, has been found to be in breach of fire safety orders. The property is sold as a 96-bedroom ‘luxury’ student community spread over four floors in a gated development.

The halls of residence were shut down after a concerned father of a student refused to let his daughter stay overnight and contacted fire chiefs over the safety of the building.

When fire inspectors arrived to examine the building, they found it was still under construction despite 27 students already in residence on the ground floor. In addition, there was no signage to indicate where the fire escapes were and self-closing devices were missing from doors, leaving a greater possibility for fires to spread quickly through the building.

The upper floors of the building are yet to be completed with much timber exposed.

“Nothing even approaching this level of seriousness will ever happen again.”

Jennifer Dempster, QC, for Trinity Development Leeds Ltd.

Parts of the staircase were covered in bubble wrap and the floors only separated by plywood.

Fire alarms were found to not be properly connected and could only be operated manually. The alarms were only able to give off “limited noise” and potentially inaudible in the event of fire. Furthermore, flammable material was also being stored in rooms on the ground floor which would have fuelled any fire. The boiler room also lacked appropriate fire protection.

Leeds Crown Court heard the prosecution, Cassie Williams, state that the staircase to one of two main fire escapes was locked. She also noted how the lack of safety measures on the upper floors could have resulted in the early collapse of the building in the event of a fire. Ms. Williams said: “Residents were put at risk of death or serious injury.”

A judge told Leeds-based firms APP Construction Ltd, Trinity Development Leeds Ltd and Niche Homes Ltd that their actions had the potential for catastrophe.

The court heard that APP Construction Ltd was responsible for the design of the building and Niche Homes Ltd were responsible for contracting properties to students. Trinity Development Leeds Ltd were the freehold owners of the building.

The defendants each pleaded guilty to four breaches of fire safety orders. Phillip Morris, for Niche Homes Ltd, said guilty pleas had been entered at an early stage.

Jennifer Dempster, QC, for Trinity Development Leeds Ltd, said the company had “deep regret” for what had happened. She said: “Nothing even approaching this level of seriousness will ever happen again.”

Joseph Hart, representing APP Construction Ltd, said:

“Both managing directors sit in the public gallery and are deeply and profoundly upset to be here. They are a wholly responsible company. They are a local company and a local employer. They have learned their lesson. They are sorry and this prosecution has had an enormous effect on them already.”

In total, the three companies were fined £620,000 for their role in the building’s inadequate fire safety.

APP Construction Ltd was fined £400,000. Trinity Development Leeds Ltd was ordered to pay £160,000. Niche Homes Ltd was fined £60,000.
Judge Robin Mairs said the dangers the students had been exposed to were “obvious to ordinary members of the public.”

He said: “I have no doubt that the fact that other students having taken leases for the start of term meant that there was financial pressure on all sides to move the students in as quickly as possible.”

Describing the unsafe condition of the building, he said: “It is not difficult to imagine that, had an evacuation been necessary, the potential for confusion and catastrophe that would have caused.”

The court heard fire safety systems were quickly put in place after the incident and the building was made safe.

Anna Brownbridge