Lewisham Homes Payout after Fatal Fire

A housing association has been fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £23,407 prosecution costs for breaking fire safety laws following a fatal fire in a tower block.

Lewisham Homes was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on Friday, January 29, after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to failing to properly maintain fire doors at the block in Deptford and failing to review an existing fire risk assessment which was carried out in 2008.

The prosecution was brought by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 after an investigation carried out by fire safety officers following the blaze on February 4, 2011.

More than 100 firefighters were called to the fire at Marine Tower in Abinger Grove, Deptford, which started in a flat on the 16th floor.

Crews rescued two women from another flat on the same floor but both were pronounced dead at the scene. They were mother-of-two Kunaliny Algaratnam, 42, and Santhirapathy Tharmalingam, 59.

The fire was started deliberately and in 2012 Sandra Clarke, then aged 49, a resident in the flats, was prosecuted and convicted of two counts of manslaughter at Woolwich Crown Court.

The investigation by the LFB’s fire safety officers revealed serious safety failings relating to the failure to maintain fire doors which directly contributed to the spread of the fire.

The flat in which the fire started was fitted with a metal security door which prevented the existing fire door behind it from being closed.

The severity of the fire and the lack of protection between the flat where the fire started and the building’s communal areas meant fire and smoke rapidly entered the lobby and also the adjacent flat in which the two women who died were trapped.

Speaking after the sentencing LFB assistant commissioner for fire safety Neil Orbell said: “Living in a high-rise building is not more dangerous than living in a house but this tragic incident is a stark reminder of the potentially lethal consequences of failing to maintain the vital safety features, such as fire doors, which are built into them to give you protection from fire.

“Sadly in the case of Marine Tower this life-saving engineering was not maintained, causing fire and smoke to spread rapidly into the lobby area and ultimately into a flat where two women, trapped by the fire, tragically died.

“This prosecution should act as a wake up call and send an urgent message to all housing providers to ensure the fire safety features in their buildings are properly maintained. If they are not, housing providers, managers, landlords and building owners should all be warned that we will not hesitate to prosecute if we find they are putting people’s lives at risk.”

A Lewisham Homes spokeswoman said it was a tragedy that “touched us all and we deeply regret”.

She said: “In 2011 the actions of a tenant led to the deaths of two people and her subsequent conviction, a tragedy that that touched us all and we deeply regret.

“We accept our failings under the fire safety regulations and take residents safety very seriously. We have been determined to learn lessons and invested heavily year on year to continually improve fire safety, and have made significant progress over the past five years.

“This is shown through our four star ratings in 2013 and 2015 under the British Safety Council’s audit of our health and safety systems.”