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Tower block owner admits criminal offences after fire

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The owner of a Speedwell tower block which went up in flames on a New Year’s Eve has been fined after admitting a plethora of fire safety breaches.

Wayne Braund bought the part-derelict former Strahan and Henshaw Building for a £1 in April, 2018, Bristol Crown Court heard.

But after a fire which started in a music studio on the ground floor on December 31, 2018, an investigation launched by Avon Fire Authority concluded Braund, as the “responsible person”, had risked lives by failing to ensure fire safety measures.

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The 52-year-old, of Fieldgrove in Bitton, initially denied seven charges dated on or before December 31, 2018.

They involve allegations that he failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and failed to ensure adequate fire detection and firefighting equipment such as fire alarms and extinguishers.

Allegations also include a failure to ensure adequate safety routes and exits and a failure to maintain fire safety precautions.

Part-way through a trial he pleaded guilty to six of the seven charges.

He also pleaded guilty to, when sole director of a company called Stairs2U, failing to ensure risk assessment regarding asbestos at premises in Moravian Road, Kingswood – in breach of health and safety regulations.

Judge William Hart handed him an 18 months jail term suspended for 18 months,

For the health and safety offence the judge fined Stairs2U £25,000, with costs to Braund of £25,000.

For the fire safety breaches the judge fined Braund £25,000 with £25,000 costs.

At the opening of Braund’s trial Sam Jones, prosecuting, said the Crown’s case is that, as owner of the premises, Braund had control over the building.

Mr Jones told the jury: “He had to make sure the building was safe in the event of a fire.

“The prosecution says he failed to do what he could have done to make the building safe.”

The court heard that the asbestos-filled tower block had many floors in disrepair.

Mr Jones said on the ground floor was Maverick music studios, on the 4th floor was The Office swingers’ club and people were sleeping in flats on the 3rd floor.

After a fire on December 31, 2018, an investigation concluded there was not a working fire alarm in the block, no emergency lighting and insufficient fire extinguishers and exits.

Braund was found to own the building and told investigators any people living there were squatters, not tenants.

He claimed the fire alarm was turned off when firefighters switched off the electricity.

Mr Jones told the jury: “He says he was not the person responsible for ensuring the fire safety precautions.

“He says fire precautions were the responsbility of the people running The Office and the music studio.

“He says he wasn’t aware people were living on the third floor.

“The prosecution says the premises was clearly used as accommodation and he would have been aware of that fact.

“The prosecution says responsibility falls on him as the owner or the person who has control.”

Brendon Moorhouse, defending, told the jury his client bought the building for £1 to develop and at the time neither had people living there nor wanted people living there.

Mr Moorhouse said the people running the music studio and swingers’ club were responsible for fire safety, and entrance and exits to the tower block were via those two concerns.

Regarding the Stairs2U asbestos charge, the court heard Braund accepted not having asbestos management plan but did remove it from the site after some delay.

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