Landlord jailed after blaze left tenant with less than one percent chance of survival

Landlord Expert
By Landlord Expert May 10, 2010 17:33

Only pioneering skin grafting techniques saved Layla Skalli’s life after she suffered 80 per cent deep tissue burns all over her body following the blaze at her Norwich flat.

 

Virtually all the skin below her neck was destroyed by the intense 600 degree heat as the property above a mobile phone shop became a raging inferno last year with tenants in three adjoining properties lucky to escape the blaze.

 

Fire crews rescued a woman living in a second floor apartment above Miss Skalli’s flat as she prepared to jump for her life.  Other tenants climbed down a drain pipe to escape.

 

Landlord Michael Billings appeared at Norwich Crown Court today (Friday 7 May) to admit charges brought by both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.

 

The court heard Billings failed to provide even the most basic protection for his tenants, such as fitting a working fire alarm system, installing the correct number of fire doors or even providing adequate means of escape. The gas appliances in the flats above the shop had not been serviced or properly inspected.

 

Judge Paul Downes sentenced Mr Billings, of Ashman’s Hall, Barsham, Beccles, Suffolk, to two-and-a-half year’s imprisonment and ordered him to pay £20,000 in costs. Judge Downes said he would review the sentence if Mr Billings pays Miss Skalli £20,000 as a show of remorse. The judge also ordered a £400 award be paid out of the public purse to Dominic Gale, a passer-by who raised the alarm after spotting the fire.

 

Miss Skalli, now aged 20, was living in a flat above shops in Magdalen Street, Norwich, when fire broke out in the early hours of 14 April 2009. The court heard that temperatures in the flat quickly soared and her screams could be heard by distressed neighbours.

 

The terrified teenager was unable to escape because her sash window could only be opened by four inches and the staircase was blocked by thick black smoke.

 

Firefighters used their ladder as a battering ram to smash the window and climb inside where they found Miss Skalli lying unconscious on the floor with her hands covering her face, the only part of her not burnt by the intense heat. 

 

The firefighter who carried Miss Skalli down the ladder described her body as being so hot his arms were beginning to burn through his tunic.

 

Police and fire service investigators were called to the scene and Miss Skalli’s injuries were so severe it seemed unlikely she would survive.

 

It was treated as a potential manslaughter case and the multi-agency investigation involved Norfolk Police, HSE, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and Norwich City Council. The cause of the blaze has never been conclusively found.

 

After sentencing Layla’s brother, Andrew Skalli, said:

 

“The actions of Michael Billings have ruined my sister's life. We want to remind every landlord that they have a legal and moral obligation to the safety of their tenants, something Billings gave no thought to hence why he has been sentenced today.

 

“But no amount of time in prison could make up for the pain he has caused my sister and my family. Despite this we remain grateful to the people who made this prosecution possible and hope it helps save other lives.”

 

HSE Inspector John Claxton said:

 

“This is the most distressing case I have worked on during my 31 years as a HSE inspector. The injuries and pain suffered by Miss Skalli were horrific. It is testament to her huge character, spirit and determination that she is still alive today.

 

“Michael Billings failed in his basic duties as a landlord and those failures nearly cost the life of a young woman. As it is, Layla Skalli has been left with both physical and emotional scars that will never completely heal.

 

“A year on she requires pain relief and will she will need further surgery in the future.

 

“When fire broke out there was very little Layla could do, either to fight the fire or escape its flames. This was as a direct result of Michael Billings’ failure to act as a responsible landlord.

 

“Landlords have duties under law to maintain their properties and ensure they are safe places for their tenants to live.  Michael Billings ignored these duties.”

 

Richard Herrell, Group Manager at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said:

 

“This is the first time the fire and rescue service in Norfolk has worked on a joint operation of this kind with the Health and Safety Executive, Norfolk Constabulary and Norwich City Council. This partnership approach proved to be a hugely effective in what was a complex and difficult case.

 

“This case has never been about interfering public bodies checking up on people for the sake of it: it’s been about ensuring all properties where people live are safe.

 

“And of course it has been about Layla Skalli, who has shown quite extraordinary courage throughout what has been a most harrowing ordeal and we wish her well in the future.”

 

Michael Billings was charged by the HSE with four counts of breaching Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and one count of breaching Regulation 36(3)(a) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. The first four counts related to his four properties affected by the fire.

 

He was charged by Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service with nine counts of breaching Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Orders 2005.

 

Issued on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive by COI News & PR. 

 

 

 

Landlord Expert
By Landlord Expert May 10, 2010 17:33

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