Call for smoke alarms to be fitted in rental homes

A FIRE investigator is calling for a law to force landlords to fit smoke detectors in their properties following the inquest into the deaths of two boys who were killed in a house fire in 2008.

Lewis Jenkins, seven, and his five-year-old brother Taylor were killed because they were playing with fire in a den they had made under the stairs of their home in Milfoil Drive.

The boys lived with their mother Denise Goldsmith in the rented Shinewater house.

An inquest into their death, held at Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court this month, heard there were no working smoke alarms in the property.

At the inquest, coroner Alan Craze heard the boys were ‘obsessed with fire’ and there was a fitted smoke alarm in the youngest boy’s bedroom but it did not have the correct amount of batteries.

Fire investigator, Mark Hobbs, who worked on the tragic Milfoil Drive blaze, told the inquest that rented homes were thought to be the most at risk of failing to have properly operated smoke alarms.

He said, “There is currently no law that requires landlords to fit smoke detectors.”

Coroner Alan Craze recorded a verdict of misadventure.

Mr Hobbs asked coroner Alan Craze to look in to the issue and make a recommendation supporting a law for landlords to fit smoke detectors in their properties.

However Mr Craze said action on the issue was already being taken.

In 2010, Devon MP Adrian Sanders presented a smoke alarm bill to parliament after a Torquay house fire killed two children.

The incident was similar in nature to the Milfoil Drive fire.

It is still ongoing but if passed into law, it would mean private and socially-rented homes would be required to have a working, hard-wired, smoke alarm for all tenancy agreement.

Mr Hobbs also spoke about the Jenkins case and said, “They didn’t have sufficient smoke detection and it is possible earlier warning would have been given.

“However, in this case I think it is unlikely to have made a difference to the outcome.”

Landlords must comply with a laws about gas safety and an Eastbourne letting agent said she would support a change in the law for smoke detectors.

Kathleen Jones, from Edwin Jones letting agents, said, “I think all our landlords have fitted smoke alarms in their properties. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t but if it were the law then that would be better.

“Sometimes I think there is too much regulation and legislation but I think this would be a good idea. It would be a simple law and it would not be a huge expense for the landlord.”

Last month, the Herald reported Tania Welch and her two young daughters were saved by a smoke detector which woke them up and allowed them to escape from their burning Percival Road home.

The fire service said the smoke detectors in Ms Welch’s house, which was also rented, had saved the life of the family.