Tenant dies after landlord fails to maintain faulty gas boiler

Published:  15 November, 2013

A Derbyshire landlord has been handed a suspended prison sentence for failing to maintain a faulty gas boiler that caused the death of a tenant from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Stephen Newton was found dead by friends on his 51st birthday at the property near Ilkeston, on 29 December 2009. His partner, Susan Davies, was also almost overcome by the carbon monoxide (CO) fumes, but was found in time to make a full recovery.

Dr Victoria Martindale, 39, was sentenced at Derby Crown Court on 12 November for breaches of gas safety laws after she failed to arrange gas safety checks to be carried out at the property over a four-year period.

An earlier court hearing heard that Martindale employed a letting agency to find a tenant in 2005. The agency arranged for a gas safety check to be completed before the tenants moved in, but were not engaged to manage the property and no further landlord gas safety checks or servicing of the gas appliances arranged by Martindale.

In May 2008, an employee of National Grid Gas visited the house to replace the gas meter and disconnected the boiler after finding it ‘Immediately Dangerous’ due to ‘fumes at open flue’. He left a report with Davies and subsequently a letter was sent to the property addressed to the landlord, but was not passed on to Martindale.

The boiler was not repaired and the court was told it was not used throughout the following winter. The gas fire stopped working in the autumn of 2009 and the only heating in the home was a borrowed electric fire.

In October 2009, Davies returned home to find the house warm as Newton had reconnected the boiler. She suggested it should be checked but did not think it ever was. On the evening of 28 December 2009, the next-door neighbour became unwell and was taken to hospital, where a blood test showed 22% CO content.

The next day, two friends were unable to contact Newton and so went to the house where they found him dead in the sitting room and Susan Davies barely conscious and unresponsive. She was taken to hospital for treatment. Tests showed Newton’s blood was found to contain 61% CO. A level of 50% is enough to be fatal.

The court heard the incident resulted from a number of factors; the boiler was reconnected despite being dangerous; the flue was too short and would be affected by the wind; the ventilator was fitted with fly screens that were blocked with dust; the boiler had not been serviced for a considerable period; the heat exchanger was partially blocked with soot and there were substantial soot deposits on the draught diverter and within the flue.

Dr Victoria Martindale of The Brickyard, Stanley Common, Derbyshire, pleaded guilty to seven breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, and was given a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. She was also given 200 hours community service, was fined £4,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £17,500.

Health & Safety Executive inspector Noelle Walker said: “This was a tragic incident and came very close to being a double fatality. It was a stroke of good fortune that friends came to call and Davies managed to escape with her life as a result.

“Martindale completely failed in her responsibilities as a landlord. She should have taken all reasonable steps to ensure the property’s gas fittings and flues were checked for safety every year, maintained in a safe condition and that gas boiler was properly serviced.”