Landlord’s gas-boiler neglect put family in danger17 August 2012
A landlord has received a suspended prison sentence after a family suffered carbon-monoxide poisoning at a flat in Lewisham, South London.
Gail Calvert, her partner Stephen Clayden, and her eight-year-old daughter inhaled large quantities of the potentially lethal gas inside the ground-floor flat they rented in Iona Close, Catford. On the evening of 10 November 2011, they were woken by a carbon-monoxide alarm, which sounded in the flat above. They were taken to hospital, where they stayed overnight for treatment. The spread of the carbon monoxide led the fire brigade to evacuate the building and the gas supply was disconnected.
The HSE’s investigation identified the source of the leak was a faulty gas boiler inside the ground floor flat. Landlord David MacDonald had failed to ensure gas safety checks were carried out at the property for more than two years.
A specialist engineer found multiple faults on the boiler. The heat exchanger was half blocked and debris was falling into the burner, which generated higher levels of carbon monoxide than normal. The boiler’s casing was not gripping tightly, due to screws degrading, which allowed the gas to escape into the flat.
The external flue was positioned only 300mm below the flat’s kitchen window and this also allowed gas to re-enter the property when the window was open. The gas also travelled up the side of the building and entered a flat on the first floor via an open window.
HSE inspector Kevin Shorten told SHP that the safety failings could easily have caused multiple fatalities. He said: “Carbon monoxide can kill quickly without warning, and approximately 20 people die each year as a result of poisoning from gas appliances and flues that haven't been properly installed, maintained, or that are poorly ventilated. Had a neighbour's carbon-monoxide alarm not sounded, the family could well be among that number.
“As a landlord, David MacDonald is legally responsible for the safety of his tenants. In relation to gas checks and in failing to properly maintain the boiler, he placed them, and others, in grave danger.”
MacDonald appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 15 August and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.36(2)(a) and reg.36(3)(a) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, for failing to ensure the boiler was in a safe condition and for not carrying out annual gas-safety checks. He was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years, ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service and pay £8211 in costs.
In mitigation, he said a new boiler had been fitted and he had no previous safety convictions. He admitted neglecting his duties as a landlord and said this was a result of a number of personal tragedies he had experienced.
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