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November 14, 2013

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Landlord prosecuted for carbon monoxide death


A Derbyshire landlord received a suspended sentence for failing to maintain a gas boiler that resulted in the death of her tenant.

Stephen Newton was found dead by his friends on 29 December 2009 — his 51st birthday — after he had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. His partner, Susan Davies, was found in time and made a full recovery.

A neighbour of the property at The Brickyard in Stanley Common, near Ilkeston, also became ill.

Following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive, Dr Victoria Martindale, 39, was sentenced at Derby Crown court for breaches of gas safety laws. She pleaded guilty to seven breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.

She was given a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. She was also given 200 hours community service and fined £4,000, and was ordered to pay costs of £17,500.

At an earlier hearing, the court heard that before renting the property, Dr Martindale employed a letting agency, which arranged for a gas safety check to be completed before tenants moved in.

Dr Martindale decided not to employ the agency to manage the property and no further checks or servicing of gas appliances were completed before Mr Newton and his partner moved into the property in 2005.

A National Grid Gas employee visited the house in 2008 to replace the gas meter. The boiler was labelled ‘Immediately Dangerous’ due to ‘fumes at open flue’ and was disconnected. A report was left with Ms Davies and a letter was sent to the property addressed to the landlord, but this was not passed on to Dr Martindale.

The boiler was not repaired and was not used throughout the following winter. The gas fire then stopped working in the autumn of 2009, with the only heating in the home being a borrowed electric fire.

While Ms Davies was away from home on October 31st 2009, Mr Newton reconnected the boiler. She suggested it should be checked, but said she did not think it ever was.

On the evening of 28 December 2009, their next door neighbour became ill and was admitted to hospital with 22 per cent carbon monoxide in their blood.

The next day, two friends found Mr Newton, dead in the sitting room, and Ms Davies barely conscious and unresponsive. Mr Newton’s blood was found to contain 61 per cent carbon monoxide — 50 per cent is enough to be fatal.

The incident resulted from a number of factors: the boiler was reconnected even though it was dangerous; the flue was too short and would be affected by wind; the ventilator was fitted with fly screens that were blocked with dust and the boiler had not been serviced for a considerable period. The heat exchanger was partially blocked with soot and there were substantial soot deposits on the draught diverter and within the flue.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Noelle Walker said: “You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you can’t even smell it, but carbon monoxide can kill without warning in just a matter of hours. Landlords must have all installation, maintenance and safety checks carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Tenants should not use any appliance they have reason to believe is unsafe and should never carry out any gas work themselves.” 

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[…] is it that landlords are treated as a special class? Here’s a similar case from 2013, where a landlord’s negligence resulted in death by carbon monoxide poisoning. The […]