London Fire Brigade is pleased action has been taken by Camden Council to keep residents safe after successfully prosecuting the local authority for its failure to address serious fire defects, which led to the tragic death of a woman in 2017.

Magdalena Fink sadly died when a fire started in the understairs cupboard of the communal staircase for her flat on Daleham Gardens in the early hours of 21 November 2017. Despite firefighters arriving quickly, the staircase was completely alight and impassable. 

Following this awful incident, Camden Council has increased engagement with London Fire Brigade to improve fire safety across the borough and prevent any further incidents relating to fire safety failings happening in the future.

Over the past five years, the council has also strengthened its own in-house fire safety team and established a new residents forum so that the Brigade and local people can raise their safety concerns on a regular basis.

Earlier this year (1 March), the council entered an early guilty plea at Westminster Magistrates Court to two offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – Article 13 failure to provide a suitable alarm and an Article 14 failure to ensure means of escape were available at all times. They were given a £500,000 fine and ordered to pay £41,100 in court costs plus a victim surcharge.

During the 2017 incident, Magdalena had no warning of the rapidly growing fire and became trapped in the building. A fire risk assessment four years earlier had identified a need for significant improvements and categorised the premises as high-risk. The issues raised in the assessment identified the need for the installation of a common parts fire alarm system, linked to heat detection in the flats and additional standalone detection within the flats.

Camden Council had installed temporary smoke detection in the staircase and had replaced a couple of detectors that had failed before 2017, but most works required had not been started by the time of the fire.

In court, the judge noted the heroic efforts of a resident who raised the alarm after getting her own family to safety by shouting and using the entryphone intercom to call all the flats and get residents to leave.

Other issues identified in the 2013 fire risk assessment included the requirement to replace all the flat front doors, as the existing doors were ill fitting and not compliant, and to address the large amounts of rubbish being stored in cupboards in the ground floor areas as well as under the main single staircase. Compartmentation issues in various locations were also noted.

London Fire Brigade welcomes action by Camden Council to improve fire safety following tragic death of resident
This demonstrates how important it is that building managers properly prioritise safety works

Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Charlie Pugsley said: “This case demonstrates how important it is that building managers properly prioritise safety works highlighted in risk assessments. Our thoughts remain with the loved ones of Magdalena Fink and the residents of Daleham Gardens through this difficult time.

“Bringing this prosecution against Camden Council has been about ensuring lessons are learned so we can reduce the likelihood of anything like this happening again. We’re pleased to see that since 2017, the council have been actively engaging with us to improve resident safety across the Borough.

“All landlords, including councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law to ensure their premises meet all fire safety requirements and are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and keep their residents safe.”

Council acknowledged procedures and practices fell below expected standard

Camden Council acknowledged they had made many changes to their procedures before and after the fire, and in pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity acknowledged that they had procedures and practices in place but that these fell below the standard that was expected.

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Our deep sympathies remain with the family and friends of Magdalena Fink, who tragically lost her life in this incident. We are also deeply sorry for the impact this incident has had on the residents who were living at Daleham Gardens at the time.

“When this incident occurred, Daleham Gardens did not meet the high standards of fire safety which Camden Council is committed to achieving across its housing. We are truly sorry this was the case.

“Camden has made a clear and public commitment to achieving the highest standard of resident safety, and since 2017, we have invested significantly in improving safety across our housing. Our comprehensive programme of fire safety works includes key practical measures – ensuring our homes have appropriate fire doors, emergency lighting, fire alarms and fire stopping. Camden Council has a dedicated and resilient fire safety team and has set up new forums for residents and the London Fire Brigade to raise safety concerns and issues. We have publicly committed to resident safety through our Fire and Building Safety Charter, which guides our approach on resident safety.”

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