The world’s largest consumer-owned business, the Co-operative Group, was fined over £200,000 after pleading guilty to serious fire safety breaches at its store in Southampton.
The prosecution by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority took into account six breaches of fire safety under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Co-Operative Group was fined £35,000 for each of the six offences and ordered to pay a total of £210,000, plus costs in excess of £28,000 to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority.
The offences came to light after fire safety inspections at the premises in September 2007 revealed the following findings:
- The responsible person failed to maintain the rear emergency exit doors unlocked so that they could be easily opened in an emergency
- The responsible person fitted a lock requiring a security code on the emergency door between the retail and storage areas which could not be easily opened in an emergency
- The responsible person was responsible for a fire alarm call point in the storage area being obstructed, potentially delaying the activation of the fire alarm to give early warning to occupants in the premises
- The responsible person failed to ensure that the store manager was provided with suitable and sufficient fire safety instruction and training
- The responsible person failed to ensure that the fire alarm system was being regularly tested
- The responsible person failed to ensure a means of early detection of fire in the retail area to give early warning to the occupants of the manager’s office to allow a safe evacuation
In addition to the six breaches of fire safety law at the Shirley Road store, three other offences were taken into account after breaches at Co-operative Group premises in Montague Avenue and Bassett Green Road in Southampton, and its Kingston Road store in Portsmouth.
In summing up, His Honour Judge Barnett said the case demonstrated a lamentable approach to fire safety and that the Co-Operative Group had been responsible for a potential death trap, given the severity of the fire safety failings.
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