Many care home operators may not be aware that their local fire authority has the power to prosecute for breaches of fire regulations. There seems to have been a recent increase in such activity by fire authorities and the latest prosecution has just been reported.

Breaches of fire safety regulations

On 6 September 2017, one of the UK’s biggest care home providers, The Anchor Trust, was sentenced at Guildford Crown Court to fines and costs totalling £210,000 regarding three breaches of fire safety regulations in a prosecution brought by Surrey County Council.

On 2 February 2015, Gordon Boxall, a resident at the Barnfield Care Home in Horley, was ‘engulfed in flames’ when smoking a cigarette unattended. The cigarette ignited Mr Boxall’s pyjamas. He was being treated at the time with a flammable paraffin-based cream, which acted as an accelerant.

The Anchor Trust had earlier pleaded guilty to three charges under S.32 of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 on 19 June 2017 at Guildford Magistrates Court. The charges related to the Trust’s failures to provide its staff at Barnfield with adequate safety training, provide a suitable risk assessment, and to take sufficient protective measures regarding smoking.

Sentencing

In sentencing, Judge Moss imposed a fine of £45,000 for each of the three breaches plus £75,000 costs.

Of particular note to health and social care providers will be the comments made by Judge Moss regarding the level of penalty imposed. He explained that he was justified in applying a reduction in sentence reflecting the Trust’s early guilty pleas and the prompt action it had taken to remedy faults at the care home.

These comments demonstrate the importance for providers to receive appropriate legal advice on compliance and criminal investigations and to act upon it.

Investigations and prosecutions

We have seen an increase in investigations and prosecutions conducted by local authorities, HSE and the CQC in 2017. Commonly, these investigations will involve an interview under caution to enable investigators to obtain relevant evidence. Early legal advice is clearly necessary.