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Serious Fire Safety Breaches Cost Asda

National food retailer Asda Stores Limited has been ordered to pay more than £55,000 in fines and costs for committing serious fire safety breaches at a store in Berkshire.

Appearing at Reading Crown Court on 6 June, the firm pleaded guilty to two charges brought under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The case had received an earlier hearing in February at Reading Magistrates’ Court, but was referred to the Crown Court, where a number of further charges were brought into account.
Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (RBFA) brought the charges following an inspection of Asda’s store in Cippenham, near Slough, by fire-safety officers on 24 June 2010. The court heard that the breaches presented a serious and life-threatening risk, not only to the staff who worked in the store but also to customers and other members of the public.

Counsel for the prosecution, William Clegg QC, told the court that the inspection, which was carried out following a complaint, identified serious breaches to fire-safety regulations, including:

  • two fire-exit doors chained and locked shut;
  • obstruction of fire-escape routes;
  • combustible items obstructing fire-exit doors and escape routes; and
  • fire-exit doors wedged open.

The court also heard that the company had previously been served with a caution in July 2000 for two contraventions relating to other fire-safety regulations.
Offering mitigation, Matthew Turner QC, stated that the company treated fire-safety regulations very seriously and set out the company’s policies and procedures that it had in place to support this. He also highlighted that the company cooperated fully with the Fire Authority, and pleaded guilty to the offences at an earlier hearing.
Summing up, Judge Grainger recognised Asda Stores’ guilty plea and mitigation, but underlined that the breaches were very serious. He fined the company £20,000 for each offence, with full costs totalling £15,647 awarded to the Fire Authority.
David Walden, the Authority’s fire-safety legal support manager, said: “This was a clear case of a major retailing company failing to comply with fire-safety regulations and, by doing so, placing people at serious risk. It also provides further evidence that some businesses continue to treat compliance with fire-safety legislation as an option – it is not.

“Staff and customers are entitled to feel safe when working at, or visiting, a supermarket, or any other business. We will continue with our efforts to ensure that any business owner, or manager who refuses to take these obligations seriously will be brought before the courts.”