Fire Risk Assessment

Landlord Jailed for 30 Months

A Suffolk landlord has been jailed for two-and-a-half years after a tenant was practically baked alive in a fire at one of his properties in Norwich.

Nineteen-year-old Layla Skalli suffered 80-per-cent deep-tissue burns and was given a less than one-per-cent chance of survival following the blaze, on 14 April 2009. Virtually all the skin below her neck was destroyed by the intense 600-degree radiant heat, and only pioneering skin-grafting techniques saved her life.

The landlord of the flat, which was situated above a mobile phone shop in Magdalen Street, Norwich, was Michael Billings, who owns hundreds of properties in and round East Anglia. Following a multi-agency investigation involving the HSE, Norfolk Police, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, and Norwich City Council, Billings appeared before the city’s Crown Court on 7 May to answer a catalogue of charges in relation to the blaze.

The court head that the fire broke out in the early hours of the morning and quickly became a raging inferno, with tenants in three adjoining properties lucky to escape the blaze. Fire crews rescued a woman living in a second-floor apartment above Miss Skalli’s flat as she prepared to jump for her life.  Other tenants climbed down a drainpipe to escape.

The teenager was unable to escape because her sash window could only be opened by four inches and the staircase was blocked by thick black smoke. Investigating HSE inspector John Claxton told SHP that Miss Skalli would have been disoriented and rendered unconscious by noxious fumes. He explained: “When the fire started, it burnt the carpet and a sofa, which produced thick, acrid smoke. This was toxic and narcotic – so much so that when she was tested in hospital, Layla had 33-per-cent carbon monoxide in her blood. At 40 per cent, you are dead.”

Fire-fighters had to use their ladder as a battering ram to smash the window and climb inside, where they found Miss Skalli lying unconscious on the floor with her hands covering her face, the only part of her not burnt by the intense heat. The fire-fighter who carried her down the ladder described her body as being so hot his arms were beginning to burn through his tunic. Source: SHP

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