Author Bio ▼

Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
May 22, 2024

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Residents in £3m legal claim for loss of homes in destructive fire

The residents of a housing block destroyed in a fire are claiming more than £3 million in damages from the company that built it, and from the housing association that owned it. Ron Alalouff reports.

The residents are claiming against house builder St James – part of the Berkeley Group – and housing association Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) after a fire swept through the four-storey Richmond House in southwest London in September 2019, destroying all 23 flats.

Richmond House before and after the fire. Credit: Published by @NationalWorld on X.

In the claim lodged in the Technology and Construction Court – part of the High Court – the claimants argue that St James is liable for breaches of duties under the Defective Premises Act (DPA) because of the design and construction of Richmond House. They also claim that MTVH breached the DPA and Occupiers’ Liability Act arising out of the design, construction, repair, maintenance, improvement or management of the block.

The residents’ case is that Richmond House was built with inadequate fire safety measures in breach of building regulations and duties under the DPA. The alleged deficiencies included missing and inadequate cavity barriers and inadequate compartmentation.

“Quick thinking of residents” why no lives lost 

Christian Hansen, a solicitor at Bindmans which represents the residents, said although the building had a ‘stay put’ strategy – which meant the fire should have been contained within the unit of origin – it “spectacularly failed to do that”.

“The fire brigade arrived in about 10 minutes, but by then a very large part of the building was already in flames,” Hansen told SHP. “There was nothing [they] could do to save the building. It was only by sheer good luck and the quick thinking of residents alerting each other to the fire that no lives were lost. Many of the residents suffered psychiatric injuries from their experiences of escaping the fire. They all lost their homes and all of their possessions.”

Hansen said that despite independent expert reports identifying the construction defects as responsible for the fire spread, St James and MTVH deny liability, having offered damages of only around £3,000 per claimant.

A spokesperson for Berkley Group said: “The cause of the fire was never identified but the building ‘performed’ as it was supposed to, allowing everyone to get out safely. Compensation has been paid to residents, and those that wished to do so have been able to sell their flats back to the owner, MTVH.”

Rebuilding of the block is due to be completed soon, and Berkeley is trying to agree the size of final, additional compensation with the residents’ lawyers.

“We have acted in good faith”

A spokesperson for MTVH said: “This has been a distressing time for our residents as they have sought to resolve this claim, and our focus has been on doing the right thing by them. At each stage of this process, we have acted in good faith, working towards a mediation within a timetable agreed between the parties.

“It is regrettable that for reasons outside of our control, mediation to date has not been possible. We will work constructively, as we have done throughout, and are hopeful that the parties can arrive at a resolution that will help to bring some closure.

“Meanwhile, over the coming months, we will be welcoming back those residents who have chosen to return to Richmond House and doing all that we can to help them to settle back in.”

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28 days ago

After this and other well-known, and much worse, incidents any landlords of muti-unit blocks should be very carefully reviewing any stay-put fire strategies.

28 days ago
Reply to  Harry

If they hadn’t done that already then they’re well behind the curve.