Appeal fails for man convicted of running unlicensed HMO in Boston

Electric cabling running through the ceiling from the pub to an en-suite bathroom to power kitchen equipment.
Electric cabling running through the ceiling from the pub to an en-suite bathroom to power kitchen equipment.

A man who appealed against his conviction and sentence for running an unlicensed and hazardous-to-life HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) in Boston has been ordered by a court to pay even more.

Paul Turner had previously been found guilty by Boston magistrates of 17 offences which he had denied and had been ordered to pay a total of £58,433.00. The magistrates heard that occupants were put at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire.

A damaged window.

A damaged window.

On Friday, July 7, after a five-day appeal hearing at Lincoln Crown Court, the original total to pay was increased to £74,601.93, despite the appeal being allowed on four of the 17 charges.

Turner, 46, of West Winch, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, who had control of the former Ship Inn, in London Road, Boston, appealed after he had been found guilty of charges relating to use of the premises as an HMO – five relating to fire safety offences.

In February, Boston Magistrates fined him a total of £47,000 and ordered him to pay £11,313.19 costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

He had been accused of putting tenants in danger. Magistrates heard that escape routes in the event of fire were not protected and not up to standard – one fire exit route was blocked by a freezer in circumstances where the fire alarm had been temporarily disconnected and there were construction works going on downstairs.

Landlords have a responsibility to keep their tenants safe from fire and if they are ignoring those responsibilities and putting people at risk, we will not hesitate to prosecute.

Other issues included a hole cut in a ceiling for cables to run into a room below above to provide electricity for cooking, multiple use of extension sockets with multiple extension cables trailing over shared landings and passageways and running up stairs. Stairs had a handrail missing and there were broken and boarded-up windows.

Tenants also had cooking equipment in their rooms.

In addition, the court was told there was defective drainage.

Turner denied he was running an HMO, but said it was a hotel with paying guests. He did not have a licence to operate an HMO.

Extension cables presenting an increased fire risk.

Extension cables presenting an increased fire risk.

A fire safety officer said he was satisfied there was a serious and imminent risk of fire and a prohibition notice was served.

The appeal hearing heard evidence of fire risks within the property and that the level of fire risk at the date of the inspection was unacceptable.

Storage of materials on fire escape routes and trailing extension cables were hazards.

The appeal court accepted that on February 16, 2016, the property was visited by various enforcement agencies, who discovered at least 18 occupants including two very young children aged one and two years old.

It said Turner, as the ‘responsible person’ had failed to show he had done all he could reasonably be expected to do, and the evidence fell far short of that.

He rarely visited the premises; he relied on another, who rarely visited himself and had no relevant qualifications.

The court ruled that lack of personal visits from Turner himself undermined his defence. His intention had been to do up the property and convert it into a hotel, but in the meantime he was letting it as a money-earning premises to cover the rent he had to pay under his lease.

The appeal was allowed in respect of an allegedly unsafe washing machine, allegedly unguarded flat roof, a first-floor landing light, and an en-suite light fitting.

But the appeal on the other charges was dismissed, the court ruling that there had been breaches of fire safety duties which placed one or more of the occupants at risk of death or serious injury.

Turner claimed that the first-floor windows were adequate fire escapes, but this was rejected.

On the issue of whether the property was an HMO, the court ruled that Turner’s witness evidence was not convincing and part of a concocted appeal, where witness evidence and documents had been created after the event, for the purposes of the defence. Evidence that the premises were used as a hotel was rejected.

Turner said his annual income was £36,000 to £37,000.

The judge said that having found appeal documents to be fabricated, it was difficult to have faith in the contents of the documentation on means. He said he would approach sentencing on the basis that Turner had the means to pay whatever fine they imposed.

He was fined a total of £50,000 and ordered to pay Boston Borough Council’s costs of the appeal of £13,288.74 in addition to their costs in the magistrates’ court of £11,313.19. Turner was told pay £2,072.28 per month over three years.

After the hearing Dan Moss, prevention and protection manager at Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, said: “Landlords have a responsibility to keep their tenants safe from fire and if they are ignoring those responsibilities and putting people at risk, we will not hesitate to prosecute. When officers visited the property in February, they found at least 18 people living there, with two very young children aged one and two – we needed to take immediate action to ensure their safety. The penalty imposed on Mr Turner is a clear reminder to landlords that the courts take safety as seriously as we do and the penalties for not doing so are severe.”