COUNTY NEWS: Sussex hospice pleads guilty to breaches in fire safety laws

St Michael's Hospice after the fire in July 2015. Photo by Eddie Mitchell.
St Michael's Hospice after the fire in July 2015. Photo by Eddie Mitchell.

A Sussex hospice has pleaded guilty to two breaches in fire safety laws, as part of an investigation into a devastating fire in 2015.

St Michael’s Hospice, in St Leonards, pleaded guilty to two breaches, specifically Articles 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(b) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These charges relate to the hospice’s overall failure to take general fire precautions to ensure the safety of its employees and non-employees.

The hospice pleaded not guilty to 11 other breaches when it appeared at Hove Crown Court today (Tuesday, March 6), which was accepted by the court.

Irene Dibben, chairman of St Michael’s Hospice, and Karen Clarke, chief executive of St Michael’s Hospice, said in a joint statement: “We remain truly sorry for the pain and anguish caused by the arson attack and resulting fire in July 2015.

“We also share the pain of our own staff and volunteers, many of whom are still coming to terms with the full devastation of the fire.

“The hospice could not have foreseen that a seriously ill patient would set fire to his own bed using an accelerant. Nonetheless we know – and apologise – for the huge and ongoing impact it has had on our patients and their families.

“St Michael’s Hospice takes the health and safety of our patients, their families, our employees and volunteers extremely seriously. Prior to the incident we had in place a plan to improve the health and safety infrastructure and in re-building the Hospice after the fire, we have ensured that it is one of the safest in England and Wales.”

A spokesman for East Sussex Fire Authority said: “Fire safety in hospices, care homes or any similar property that provides rest, care or accommodation for vulnerable people is of the utmost importance and the law is there to protect the residents and staff from the effects of fires.

“East Sussex Fire Authority made the decision to bring a fire safety prosecution against St Michael’s Hospice Hastings and Rother following the fire in St Leonards on Saturday, July 11, 2015. The fire safety case against St Michael’s Hospice Hastings and Rother was brought after careful consideration of the evidence and was made to ensure lessons are learned.

“While it is firmly believed that the fire was started deliberately by an individual who was in the care of the hospice, during the plea and trial preparation hearing at Hove Crown Court, the company pleaded guilty to two breaches in fire safety laws, specifically Articles 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(b) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These charges relate to the hospice’s overall failure to take general fire precautions to ensure the safety of its employees and non-employees.

“It is our view that if the company had complied with the fire safety law, the fire in St Leonards would not have been so serious; we now hope these convictions serve as a reminder to people responsible for the housing and care of vulnerable people of the importance of effectively maintaining fire safety measures in their buildings.”

A sentencing hearing will take place at the end of March.

Two people subsequently died following the blaze in 2015, and a man was later charged with arson with intent to endanger life. The terminally-ill man, who was a patient at the hospice at the time of the fire, died days before the court case. No further charges are being brought by the police.