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NYFRS prosecutes York and Lincoln nightclub owner for allowing dangerous fire safety conditions

Published on 19 October 2015
In order to assist the business community to understand their responsibilities, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service organise a series of information seminars
Mr. Aaron Mellor was fined £76,000 for allowing dangerous fire safety conditions to exist in both nightclubs

At York Crown Court the responsible person for the Tokyo nightclubs in York and Lincoln, Mr. Aaron Mellor, was fined a combined total of £76,000 for allowing dangerous fire safety conditions to exist in both nightclubs. Tokyo Industries was also awarded a fine of £30,000.

Fire Officers carried out a number of visits to the Tokyo Nightclub in York between 2013 and 2014 and found that at various times the emergency lighting system wasn’t working correctly, the fire alarm and fire detection system was not working and that the fire risk assessment for the property was not adequate.

There was also sleeping accommodation on the premises (of which Mr. Mellor was aware) although he later denied this was the case. The premises were entirely unsuitable and unsafe for such purposes; mains electricity had been disconnected by the supplier for approximately 2.5 weeks as a result of non-payment which threatened the working of the fire alarm and detection system and emergency lighting – these safety systems require a reliable continuous supply of electricity, rather than an intermittent supply from a generator which had been purchased to allow the nightclub to operate on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The rest of the time the generator was switched off.

Electricity supply and other fire safety matters not resolved

Due to the seriousness of the deficiencies an Enforcement Notice was served on the Director of the company, Mr. Mellor, on the 6th March 2013 requiring him to remedy a number of defects in the premises before 3rd April 2013.

Subsequent visits to the property in April by fire officers found the fire alarm was showing a fault, there was not a continuous electricity supply and other fire safety matters had not been resolved. Consequently Mr. Mellor was in breach of the Enforcement Notice.

A visit on the 19th July 2014 found that the Fire Risk Assessment was still not suitable or sufficient, and that it had not been updated and amended to reflect changes in site management and current operation and use of the site.

Due to the seriousness of these fire safety deficiencies, which had been present for several months, and the failure to comply with all the matters contained within the Enforcement Notice North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority took the decision to prosecute Mr. Aaron Mellor and one of his companies Tokyo Industries (One) Limited.

On 12th February 2015 at York Magistrates’ Court Tokyo Industries (One) Limited pleaded guilty to three offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) and Aaron Matthew Mellor ( the sole director of the company) to one offence. The case was committed to the Crown Court for sentence.

On 24th April 2015 Aaron Matthew Mellor was convicted of 11 offences under the RRO by Lincoln Magistrates’ Court (Deputy District Judge Bennett) after a three day trial. The case was committed to the Crown Court for sentence. The Lincoln matter was transferred to York Crown Court so that the defendant in both cases could be sentenced at the same time.

On September 25th 2015 at York Crown Court His Honour Judge (HHJ) Ashurst heard details of the contraventions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Due to the gravitas of the offences and a belief that Mr. Mellor was not operating his companies correctly the prosecution applied to the court for consideration that Mr. Mellor should be banned from being a company director. The defence argued that this was an unreasonable step, as it would mean closure of the Tokyo Group of nightclubs, costing some 1200-1800 jobs to be lost.

Two Fire Authorities combined for the sentencing

It is believed to be the first time in the country that two Fire Authorities have combined in this way for the sentencing of a company and individual business operator, where offences have occurred in different counties.

In sentencing HHJ Ashurst said that in the field of fire safety prevention is better than cure, and had the fire taken hold in either premises the public would have been put to very significant risk to life and limb. Consequently the overall penalties must reflect this. He further commented that a Fire Risk Assessment should not be superficial but address the practical issues about how to protect the public.

Mr Mellor was fined £10,000 for the York offences and fined £66,000 for the Lincoln offences. Mr Mellor was also ordered to pay £23,448.30 in prosecution costs to North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Authority and £44,004.04 in costs to Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Authority.

Tokyo Industries (One) Limited was awarded a £30,000 fine for the failings found at the York venue.

Group Manager Prevention and Protection, Paul Mead, for Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue says: “This is the first time that two Fire and Rescue services have acted together to successfully bring a prosecution and it sends a clear message out to owners of this type of venue that when they put company profit before public safety with regards to fire safety precautions then we will act when it is in the public interest to do so.”

Ms. Karen Galloway prosecuting solicitor for the Fire Authority stated that: “This was an extremely serious case for which the Fire and Rescue Authority had to prosecute the person responsible for safety within the building. Those living at the address were placed at risk of death or serious injury owing to the inadequate fire safety measures in place. A fire at the premises could have had resulted in catastrophic consequences. There is no doubt that had the Fire Authority not taken action the serious contraventions in this case would have continued unchecked”.

Station Manager, David Watson of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service says:

“North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service does work closely with other local enforcement agencies in an attempt to improve safety standards. Many of the business premises that we visit are well-managed and are conscientious about fire safety matters. However, some of the buildings which are brought to our attention because of fire incidents or complaints turn out to present serious fire safety concerns which endanger those living at, working or visiting the premises.”

He continues; “An adequate fire risk assessment is the starting point for ensuring that the rest of the fire safety provisions are correct, properly managed and maintained. In buildings where sleeping takes place it is vitally important that the correct measures are provided and maintained. When fire alarm and detection systems are not provided or not maintained in full working order those people who are sleeping in a building may well have their lives put at risk of death or serious injury in the event of a fire. Fire safety officers will always try to work with businesses and business owners to ensure they are compliant or can achieve compliance with the requirements of the legislation and do so within an acceptable time scale. Unfortunately in this case the person with control had failed so seriously and also allowed people to sleep in an upper floor room. The conviction shows how seriously the Fire Authority and the Courts view those who put the safety of others at risk in the event of a fire.”

Fire risk assessment

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority urge business owners and those with responsibility for any premises, where the fire safety order applies, to ensure that they have conducted their fire risk assessment or reviewed any existing fire risk assessment when this is required. It is important that they are aware of the legislative obligations they need to comply with including having an up to date fire risk assessment.

In order to assist the business community to understand their responsibilities under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO), North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service organise a series of information seminars throughout the county.

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