Chesterfield businessmen James Hill and Jason Hill have appeared in the dock after a nightclub fire left a customer seriously injured.
The father-and-son duo admitted “serious” health and safety breaches which put the lives of staff and customers of Havana Whites in Corporation Street, Chesterfield, at risk.
I hope this gives a clear message that we will prosecute people who flout health and safety laws and put other people at riskCouncillor Chris Ludlow, Chesterfield Borough Council
James, who starred in BBC show The Apprentice last year, was fined more than £6,000 when he appeared at Chesterfield magistrates’ court on Wednesday.
In May, James pleaded guilty to two charges for failing to care for the health and safety of himself and other people on the premises and for refusing to respond to questions put to him by an investigating officer from Chesterfield Borough Council.
The sentencing of Jason – who is on the verge of bankruptcy, the court heard – has been adjourned until August to allow his financial circumstances to be looked into.
He admitted six charges last month, including two health and safety breaches relating to staff and customers at Havana Whites and four counts of failing to comply with fire legislation – putting people at risk of serious injury or death.
In January 2014, a Havana Whites customer suffered serious burns when his shirt caught fire from a tea-light left on the bar.
At the time, the bar was owned by Linacre Estates Ltd.
Jason, of Corporation Street, was the company director and James, of Chatsworth Road, was an employee who exercised “significant control over the premises”, the court heard.
Carl May-Smith, prosecuting on behalf of the borough council, said previous fire warnings had not been acted upon and staff had not received appropriate training.
Investigations revealed a string of failures, including an inadequate fire exit and a lack of emergency lighting and smoke alarm testing.
He added: “Employees and non-employees were at risk of serious harm.”
In mitigation, Joe Harvey insisted the bar – which has been under new ownership since January of this year – was not a “death trap”.
He added: “James was an employee, not a manager. Jason, as director, realises that the buck stops with him.”
Mr Harvey said that Jason had debts totalling many thousands of pounds and was close to being declared bankrupt, leaving him depressed and carrying out jobs for family and friends for £150-a-week.
He added: “He’s given the last 15 years of his life to Chesterfield – he helped transform the night-time economy in the town – but he has been hit hard by the decline in the pub trade.
“He has suffered a fall from grace and now finds himself in the criminal courts.”
Isis Noir, another bar owned by Jason, was closed last year after a three-month sting uncovered drug-related activity in the premises.
Speaking after the hearing, Councillor Chris Ludlow, the borough council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “We welcome the level of fines given to James Hill and I hope this gives a clear message that we will prosecute people who flout health and safety laws and put other people at risk.
“The failures in this case to put in place measures to protect the health and safety of staff working at Havana Whites and of its customers are shocking especially after they were told not to leave naked flames out in the bar area following a previous visit by the council’s health and safety officer.”
Phil Mitchell, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service group manager, said: “Had the blaze occurred when the premises were busier or involved a customer wearing more combustible clothing such as a light dress the consequences may have been far worse.
“The fire exit from the rear yard was insufficient, the escape lighting and fire alarm were not being maintained, the premises fire risk assessment had not been reviewed and was inadequate and some staff were not suitably trained in fire safety.
“Licensees, managers and pub or club operators should recognise that they have a responsibility to ensure that any facilities they provide for their customers have a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment in place which is reviewed regularly.”