Manjit Dulay, from Rochdale, owned a £30m property empire but ran it ‘like a corner shop’, a court heard. In 2014 he was ordered to carry out urgent improvements at St Clément’s Court, a block of more than 70 flats he owns in Leicester, Leicestershire Live reports.
Repeated inspections uncovered a string of problems including a non-functioning fire alarm system, useless smoke detectors, unsuitable fire escape routes and a broken emergency air venting system.
Dulay failed to do all the work required and a formal enforcement notice was issued in April 2016.
Leicester Crown Court heard that a more thorough assessment by firefighters in 2017 found recurring problems and new ones. After discovering that not a single smoke detector in the corridors was functioning, the fire service officers, not wanting to force people out of their homes, fitted new smoke detectors themselves.
Dulay finally hired an online company in 2017 to do a fire risk assessment for £400 but never informed them of the enforcement notice or the scale of problems.
They sent retired Leicestershire firefighter Martin Ballard, 60, who was unqualified for the job, and his work on the assessment was so poor he was charged with four counts of breaching fire safety regulations himself and appeared in court alongside Dulay.
Despite spending money to illegally build two penthouses on the blocks without planning permission, Dulay failed to do the work required to meet fire safety requirements.
Amid growing concern from residents in the block he was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to six counts of risking people’s death or injury by breaching fire regulations.
Bernard Thorogood, prosecuting, said: “This was a building on occasion without fire alarm protection, which was a very serious situation.
“Each breach gave rise to the risk of death or serious injury. Fire is an indiscriminate killer. Fire and the products of combustion can spread very rapidly.”
He said the building had a serious lack of fire-resistant barriers – doors that did not fit their frames and others that should have been self-closing in the event of a fire – potentially allowing deadly fumes to fill the building quickly.
He said: “A corridor can quickly become completely filled [with smoke] so that visibility is removed, and a single breath can have terrible consequences.”
Mr Thorogood said that each day in the UK between 30 and 40 fires break out in residential blocks in the UK and that insecure front doors and anti-social behaviour problems in the area around St Clément’s Court made the risk of fire greater.
He said: “There were repeated attempts by the fire service to help him raise standards. “It was his choice to ignore regulatory requirements in the hope they would go away.”
As well as the regulation breaches, Dulay, of Pembrooke Court, admitted failing to surrender to bail in February this year – he absconded for 130 days and then also missed a later appointment to sign in at a police station.
Lawrence Henderson, representing Dulay, said: “He’s no businessman – he’s a builder. He has taken on far more than he could manage. He’s trying to keep up with what he’s created.”
Judge Robert Brown told Mr Henderson: “You’re describing a multi-national being run like a corner shop. He’s completely out of his depth.”
Dulay was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for 24 months, and ordered him to pay an £80,000 fine plus £66,418 in costs.
The judge told Dulay: “You’re a builder, not a businessman. A radical new approach to compliance is now necessary.”