Landlord jailed after flat fire

A landlord who breached health and safety laws has been jailed after a 19-year-old tenant was left with 80% burns following a flat fire.

Michael Billings, of Beccles, Suffolk, was jailed for 30 months after Norwich Crown Court heard how barmaid Layla Skalli was given a less than 1% chance of survival following the blaze at her home in Norwich in April 2009, said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Judge Paul Downes also ordered Billings, who admitted breaching health and safety and fire safety legislation, to pay £20,000 costs, said a HSE spokesman.

One HSE inspector said the case was the “most distressing” he had seen in more than 30 years.

“Only pioneering skin grafting techniques saved Layla Skalli’s life after she suffered 80% deep tissue burns all over her body,” said the spokesman.

The spokesman said Billings, in his 50s, failed to provide “even the most basic protection” for tenants. He said the landlord had not fitted a working fire alarm system, installed the correct number of fire doors or provided adequate means of escape.

Miss Skalli, now 20, had been unable to escape because her sash window could only be opened four inches and the staircase was blocked by smoke, said the spokesman. “Firefighters used 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.”

Miss Skalli’s brother Andrew added: “The actions of Michael Billings have ruined my sister’s life. We want to remind every landlord that they have a legal and moral obligation to the safety of their tenants, something Billings gave no thought to hence why he has been sentenced.”

“But no amount of time in prison could make up for the pain he has caused my sister and my family. Despite this we remain grateful to the people who made this prosecution possible and hope it helps save other lives.”

HSE officials said Billings admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, breaching Regulation 36(3)(a) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and breaching Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Orders 2005. The spokesman said Judge Downes promised to review the sentence if Billings paid Miss Skalli £20,000 as a show of remorse.

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