Landlord fined £20,000 after Worthing house fire

Two people became trapped during the fire. Picture and video: Eddie Mitchell
Two people became trapped during the fire. Picture and video: Eddie Mitchell

Two people became trapped upstairs during a fire in Worthing last year, weeks after their landlord was told their fire alarm did not work, a court heard.

Former landlord Terry Millis admitted in court today that he put the lives of five residents of a Portland Road home at risk.

One person was taken to hospital

One person was taken to hospital

The judge said Millis, 62, of Highview in Sompting, had a ‘high level’ of culpability and fined him £20,000 for ‘failures’ in the lead up to the fire.

The case relates to a blaze at a three-storey Victorian house, split into flats, on May 14 last year.

Speaking at Brighton Magistrates’ Court today, prosecutor Michael Stoneham said: “West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service received a phone call to attend a fire in Portland Road.

“The watch manager noticed smoke issuing from the building and four of the residents were stood outside the property.

The purpose of sentencing in this type of case is to protect the safety of individuals living in such premises

District judge Tessa Szagun

“[The fire] was in the process of spreading to the loft.

“It was ascertained that there were two people trapped inside on the second floor of the property due to the stairs being smoke logged.”

Fortunately the brave firefighters managed to rescue the two people trapped in the burning building.

Both escaped without major injury, though one was taken to hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

Two people were trapped in the fire but escaped unhurt

Two people were trapped in the fire but escaped unhurt

Mr Stoneham added: “Mr Terry Millis did not have a fire risk assessment and was aware that the fire alarm was not in working order

“Several of the smoke detectors had the manufacturer’s dust covers still on them, rendering them non-responsive to smoke.”

Millis had contacted a company to repair the fire alarm two months before the fire, but the work had not been done, the court heard.

The three-storey Victorian house had been split into flats several years before, with all the flats sharing a central staircase.

The prosecutor said: “A resident explained that she had lived in the property for four years and had never heard the fire alarm sound.

“The failures to have the fire regulations in place resulted in the lives of the residents being in danger.

“Mr Millis was aware that the alarm wasn’t working and the danger that the residents were at risk of.”

Chris Chatterton, defending, said Millis checked the alarms every month in the daytime.

He said: “That would explain why there were no alarm tests heard by residents.

“The fire itself is through no fault of Mr Millis.”

The court heard the blaze was caused by a cooking surface being left unattended.

“Immediately following this Mr Millis instructed the company to replace the alarms. That has been done.”

He also cited Millis’ significant health problems he suffered from in the lead up to the fire, and still deals with today.

Sentencing him, district judge Tessa Szagun said he had a ‘high level’ of culpability.

She said: “The purpose of sentencing in this type of case is to protect the safety of individuals living in such premises by ensuring that there is no financial gain by any person cutting corners.

“[There is] also a necessity to deter others from doing so.”

Millis was fined £20,000 – reduced from £30,000 by his guilty plea – and ordered to pay £1,743.47 costs to West Sussex County Council.