Banbury business owner narrowly avoids jail for fire safety breaches

A Banbury restaurant owner has been prosecuted for failing to provide suitable fire safety arrangements for members of the public, in a case brought to court by Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service (2 November 2020).

Mr Mohammed Khan’s Jool Restaurant premises, in the town’s Parsons Street, was visited by fire safety inspectors after a concern was raised by Cherwell District Council’s licensing team that staff were sleeping above the restaurant in dangerous conditions.

Councillor Judith Heathcoat, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “The vast majority of businesses in the county take fire safety seriously and Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service will continue to support them to comply with legal requirements and to help keep owners and customers safe.

“However, it is not acceptable to put people’s lives at risk. Hopefully, this prosecution will act as a deterrent to others who think they can ignore what are essential safety measures.”

When inspectors arrived, they found sleeping accommodation being provided on both the first and second floors of the building and the fire alarm system not working. This meant that during the night a fire could spread through the building cutting off the means of escape without those inside realising the danger until too late.

At the time of inspection, a prohibition notice was served meaning that the building could not be used for sleeping until the fire alarm was repaired.

Mr Khan pleaded guilty to a total of five charges at Oxford Magistrates Court at an earlier hearing.

The charges included:

  • Failure to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.
  • Failure to ensure that emergency routes and exits were kept clear at all times.
  • Failure to ensure that it was possible for persons to evacuate the premises as quickly and safely as possible.
  • Failure to ensure that the fire safety equipment was subject to a suitable system of maintenance.

Due to the severity of the breaches, the case was sent to the Crown Court for sentencing. The court found the offences were so serious that a custodial sentence was awarded. After considering the mitigation for this case, the sentence was suspended for two years. Mr Khan was also ordered to pay costs totalling £2,400.

Tom Branden, Fire Protection and Business Safety Manager for Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service, said: “This case highlights the benefits of joint working between the district council and county council to make sure that business owners are not putting their staff or the public at risk.

“When we find major breaches, they often relate to people sleeping in buildings that are not designed for it. If you operate a commercial building and you have staff sleeping within that building, you need to be certain that you are meeting the expectations of fire safety legislation.

“You will need the right type of fire alarm system. The separation of the sleeping area needs to protect it from a fire in the commercial parts of the building and people must have access to a safe route out of the building. There’s plenty of guidance available, however, if any business requires further advice, please don’t hesitate to contact Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service. We’re always happy to support local companies with fire safety.”

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a requirement upon the responsible person, usually the building occupier, operator or owner, to undertake a fire risk assessment and to act upon the outcomes of the significant findings of that assessment to ensure that people remain safe.

Guidance to assist businesses is available free of charge on the government’s website or on the Chief Fire Officers Association website

Additional guidance to help business owners understand their duties relating to keeping their premises and the public safe from fire is available at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/businessfiresafety