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Coroner’s death warning to Town Hall over missing smoke alarms

Inquest finds man died in council flat without detector

08 August, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Forensic tent in Brassey Road, West Hampstead, last November – the scene of a fatal fire

A CORONER has sent a second urgent fire safety warning to the Town Hall after an investigation found a council tenant died in a flat that did not have a smoke alarm.

Dr Sarah Bourke this week issued Camden another “prevention of future deaths” notice after finding there had been no smoke detector in Tony Goodridge’s flat in West Hampstead, last November.

The 55-year-old succumbed to smoke fumes and “airway burns” from the blaze, which the London Fire Brigade said was believed to have been sparked “accidentally” by smouldering smoking materials or incense sticks.

The fire in Brassey Road

The coroner’s warning to the council was issued because “there was no smoke alarm in the property” and that there remains “a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is ­taken”.

It is the second time Camden has been sent a notice over its performance on fire safety in council-owned buildings. A coroner in April 2018 sent a similar caution after reviewing details of the death of Magdalena Fink in Daleham Gardens, Belsize Park – seven months before Mr Goodridge died in Brassey Road.

That time the warning came from St Pancras senior coroner Mary Hassell, who warned Camden that unless it improved its smoke alarm checking system “there is a risk that future deaths will occur”.

Ms Hassell drew attention to the issue that no council staff were specifically designated to check fire alarms in council-owned properties.

After receiving the coroner’s stark warning over Ms Fink’s death, the Town Hall responded last summer by pledging to hire a team of “specific officers to periodically check the operation of battery-operated smoke detectors in those properties that have them”.

Despite the serious nature of the case, Camden Council has declined to comment on whether Mr Goodridge’s flat had been checked by these officers, or whether it was on a list of homes due to be checked.

It rebuffed questions from the New Journal that went beyond its press statement.
Mr Goodbridge died from “fire fumes and airway burns” that were recorded as “accidental”, according to a ruling at Poplar Coroner’s Court earlier this year.

It was after that inquest that the coroner felt moved to write to Camden Council urging it to act.

In the aftermath of the West Hampstead blaze, resident Sanaz Ghanbari was hailed as a hero after she rushed towards the burning building and helped to alert and
haul out tenants from the block.

The New Journal printed her and other neighbours’ concerns that no fire alarms were sounding during the fire rescue.

Ms Ghanbari called on the council to “open their eyes” and “make changes” at the block, including installing fire alarms in the communal walkways.

The council this week reiterated London Fire Brigade advice that “stay put” blocks (where residents are advised to remain in their homes) do not need fire alarms in communal hallways, adding that residents in buildings such as Brassey Road should not leave their homes during a fire.

The fire destroyed the top-floor flat and roof of the three-floor building, but it did not spread to tenants’ homes below because of its “compartmentation” design.

The London Fire Brigade said there was a legal duty on social landlords to make sure smoke alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy.

A spokeswoman added: “Due to the significant fire damage in two areas of the room, it is believed the fire started either next to a dresser, caused by a
displaced cigarette, cigarette lighter or incense stick, or in the immediate vicinity of a heater due to combustible items being located too close to the heater element.”

In a statement, Cabinet Member for Better Homes Cllr Meric Apak said: “Camden Council is absolutely committed to ensuring the highest standard of resident safety and as part of this has already decided to install hard-wired smoke alarms in all of our tenants’ flats where alarms are not already present.”

He added: “We continue to carry out enhanced fire risk assessments on all our council homes and work closely with residents, including our resident-led Fire Safety Advisory Panel, to identify and act on risks or concerns.”


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