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‘Corner cutting’ Grimsby landlord who lied to the court jailed for five months

19 August 2016

‘A penny pinching profiteer’ is how a Crown Court judge described a Grimsby landlord as he sentenced him to five months in prison. Judge Kelson QC claimed that Keith Newsum was ‘more concerned with his own wealth than the welfare of his tenants’ and said it was ‘good fortune that no-one died’ in the serious fire in 2014 when fire alarms failed to sound.

‘Corner cutting’ Grimsby landlord who lied to the court jailed for five months

Landlords are being advised by Humberside Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) to ensure that fire safety measures within their premises are satisfactory after the successful prosecution under the Regulatory Reform (Fire) Safety Order 2005.

Mr Keith Newsum, landlord, of 19/21 Bursar Street Cleethorpes appeared at Grimsby Crown court on 8 July 2016 and pleaded guilty on four counts:

  • The fire assessment was not suitable and sufficient
  • Failure of the fire alarm to sound
  • Fire alarm system in 19 & 21 Bursar Street were not linked
  • Fire doors not up to appropriate standard

Returning to court on 19 August 2016 for sentencing, Mr Newsum was given a five month jail term and ordered to pay £100,000 in costs.

The Judge (Peter Kelson QC) said that no fire risk assessment of the property had taken place since 2004 and that alterations in 2010 to conjoin the two addresses in Bursar Stereet had effectively reduced the number of exits from three to one. Mr Newsum had attempted to cover up his lack of the required assessments, but the Judge made it clear that his 'lie had been exposed' by the excellent work of the prosecution.

The fire started in one of the rear rooms on the ground floor of 21 Bursar Street, Grimsby on Saturday 23 August 2014 at 00:11 hours and spread to the room above with smoke logging to 19 and 21 Bursar Street and neighbouring buildings through a common roof void. A Fire Investigation Officer from HFRS concluded that the cause of the fire was due to discarded smoking materials.

Anywhere between 10 and 20 people escaped from the property including a 16 year old boy and his mother who escaped out of a first floor window. As no fire alarm sounded in either property, only the quick thinking of some of the residents who alerted those in neighbouring rooms by banging on doors or throwing stones at windows ensured that no-one was seriously injured or killed. Smoke in the roof space had also affected a baby in a neighbouring property.

The scant disregard for the safety of his tenants meant that the judge took a dim view of Mr Newsum and told the court that it was ‘good fortune that no-one died’. He added that ‘deterrent sentences must be passed to protect tenants’.

It has taken approximately almost exactly two years for this case to be finalised.

HFRS urges 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 and that the fire precautions in place are adequate and maintained.

Director of Public Safety Phil Shilitto praised the work of his officers in bringing the case to a successful conclusion:

‘Our Public Safety Team has worked tirelessly for two years to bring this successful prosecution. As a service, our main priority will always be fire prevention, but the flagrant disregard for the safety of paying tenants in this case left us no option but to apply the full force of the law.

‘We will not hesitate to do the same again and we hope that this sends a clear signal to other landlords that the safety of those in their properties has to be the number one priority. However, I would urge landlords to seek advice from us if they are unsure as to their responsibilities and our experienced team can help them comply with current fire safety legislation.

Law-abiding businesses deserve a level playing field and would expect us to prosecute those who, in effect, gain an unfair economic advantage through failings in their fire safety standards.’  

HFRS urges 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 and that the fire precautions in place are adequate and maintained.

HFRS are keen to help landlords understand the legislation and meet the necessary safety standards for HMOs. A large majority of landlords are happy to work with the Fire Service, however, those who decide to ignore the advice and flout the law must understand that they may be subject to investigation and, when necessary, prosecution.

Cllr Peter Wheatley, portfolio holder responsible for housing enforcement at North East Lincolnshire Council, believes the ruling sends out a very clear message:

‘Today’s prosecution serves as a reminder to all landlords to make sure their properties are safe.

‘Thankfully everyone managed to escape the fire in Bursar Street, but the consequences could have been so much worse.

‘We’re working with Humberside Fire and Rescue and other agencies in taking a firm stance against landlords who put their tenants at risk in dangerous, substandard properties.

‘Earlier this year we were awarded government funding to tackle rogue landlords and we’re now building on this activity to drive out poor management practices and improve privately rented properties in the area.

‘If you have concerns about a privately rented property in the borough, please report it to us by calling 01472 324777 or emailing homeimprovementteam@nelincs.gov.uk  All reports will be handled sensitively and in the strictest confidence.’