Court dismisses New Look’s appeal
New Look pleaded guilty to two breaches of the RRO at Southwark Crown Court on 25 November 2009 following a prosecution by the London Fire Brigade.
London Fire Brigade has welcomed a decision by the Court of Appeal yesterday which gives guidance to sentencing for serious breaches of fire safety legislation. The judgment which dismissed New Look’s appeal against sentence is the first decision made by the Court of Appeal under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the “RRO”). New Look pleaded guilty to two breaches of the RRO at Southwark Crown Court on 25 November 2009 following a prosecution by the London Fire Brigade. The company was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £136,052 in costs by HHJ Rivlin QC, Recorder of Westminster. It is still the largest fine under the RRO.
Councillor Brian Coleman AM FRSA, Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: “I agree with the judge’s view that New Look’s performance on fire safety at their Oxford Street store was lamentable. Businesses like New Look are legally responsible for ensuring that their customers and employees are safe from fire.” “We welcome the guidance given in today’s judgement and it is clear that the courts do not have to see a death or serious injury to hit a company with a substantial fine.”
New Look argued that HHJ Rivlin, the sentencing judge, had not given sufficient weight to the fact that neither individually nor cumulatively were the breaches of duty linked to the cause of fire, nor did the fire cause injury or death. It was submitted that the sentencing judge had applied a higher presumed standard of seriousness to breaches of fire safety responsibilities than he would for breaches of duty towards employees and visitors under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. These submissions were not accepted. The Court of Appeal agreed with the sentencing judge that a court does not have to wait until death or serious injury has occurred to express its displeasure at wholesale breaches of the defendant’s responsibilities under the Order.
After concluding that the sentencing judge made no error in principle or approach to the issues of seriousness and responsibility, the Court of Appeal recognised that the fines were severe but not manifestly excessive. The Court of Appeal shared the sentencing Judge’s view that New Look’s performance of its fire safety obligations in a large department store in the centre of London was “lamentable”.
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