A mother and son have received custodial sentences in relation to fire breaches at a working men’s club in Morecambe.
Heather and Callum Goffin were sentenced after pleading guilty to several breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 at Preston Crown Court.
The court was told that an inspection of the premises took place following a fire caused by an explosion of LPG cylinder which had been used to fuel a propane fan gas heater to heat the premises. Two men, John McCartney, aged 60 and Philip “Tony” Townsend aged 70, tragically died in the fire in October 2019.
Joseph Hart, Prosecuting told the Court that despite a previous warning in relation to the use of gas cylinders for heating purposes, 3 LPG cylinders were found in the premises following the fire. It was not known what had caused the explosion, but the main fire escape from the snooker room in the club was locked. A number of the club’s customers tried to exit through the blocked fire escape before running through the kitchen at the rear of the premises.
Heather Coffin, 55 was the designated premises supervisor (licensee) for the club. She was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to 13 charges under the Fire Safety Order.
Callum Coffin, 26, her son, and sole director of The Gordon Club Ltd, was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment suspended for 12 months and ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work for the community after pleading to 6 charges under the Fire Safety Order. He was also ordered to pay £2000 towards prosecution costs.
A subsequent fire investigation by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service revealed numerous deficiencies in the fire safety arrangements:The fire alarm system had a battery which should have been replaced every 4 years, but was dated August 2014.
- The alarm panel appeared to have had it’s battery last tested in 2016.
- Defective fire doors with missing self-closing mechanisms were found throughout the premises.
- A gas cylinder had been stored in the office.
- The exit route signage in the premises was deficient and one sign led to a “barrel drop”.
- Obstructions such as a freezer and a tyre were found on the stairways.
- Combustibles were used to wedge fire doors open.
- There was a lack of compartmentation between the floors.
- Fire safety records were out of date, with the last testing done in 2011.
- There was no fire risk assessment in relation to the premises.
The court heard that smoke and toxic gases filled the ground floor within 60 seconds of ignition. CCTV footage showed customers panicking and running out of the premises following the explosion. There had been 18 people in the bar including the defendant Callum Coffin who had been working behind the bar.
Mr McCartney had been employed as a cleaner and handyman for the club. “Tony” Townsend, a customer, had stayed in the bar to try to find Mr McCartney but had been unable to do so. Both men died in the fire.
Defending Heather Goffin, Jason Dyer, told the court that she had immediately admitted that she was responsible for the fire safety in the premises and was full of remorse for what happened. He said that corners were not cut to save money, but it was accepted that there had been no justification for failing to follow basic standards. She had accepted that she was responsible for the day to day running and administration and when interviewed she took full responsibility for failing to follow the required safety standards.
Paul Humphries, defending Callum Goffin, said his client had not deliberately set out to avoid responsibilities for fire safety but instead was simply unaware of them. He said he was 23-year-old at the time of the fire and was not actually actively involved in running the business, instead sometimes working behind the bar in exchange for drinks.
In victim statements provided to the court, the families of the deceased spoke of their devastation. Mr Townsend’s daughter said: “This wasn’t a freak accident, it was totally preventable from the outset if only they had followed the fire regulations.”
His Honour Judge Parry told the court that it was important that is understood that the defendants had not been charged with causing the deaths of the 2 men, but instead for breaching fire regulations. Accordingly the maximum sentence he could impose was a period of 2 years imprisonment. Both defendants received credit for their early guilty pleas and the remorse that they had shown.
Below: CCTV footage from The Gordon Club.
The Gordon Club, Morecambe
Fire door leading to locked double doors
Lounge with burnt out gas heater and LPG cylinder
Fire testing book