Brian Silvester (Tory)
Chesire East councillor Brian Silvester could face prison after he admitted putting vulnerable lives at risk at his Crewe home.
Appearing at South Cheshire Magistrates Court in Crewe on Monday (July 24), Cllr Silvester and his brother Colin pleaded guilty to a total of 11 fire safety breaches in relation to the building they rent out as bedsits on Crewe Road in Shavington.
They also admitted a charge levelled by the council of failing to obtain a licence for a house of multiple occupation.
After hearing the case, magistrates decided their sentencing powers were insufficient for the gravity of the crime, saying it ‘did not fall outside the custody threshold’.
The 60-year-old former mayor of Crewe and Nantwich was sent to crown court for sentencing.
In January this year the Chronicle revealed that Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service had closed down the Willaston ward councillor’s property with immediate effect, as there was an ‘imminent risk of serious personal injury’. Tenants were forced to move into temporary accommodation while a catalogue of serious failings were rectified.
On Monday, prosecutor Chris Green told the court that one fire officer believed it ‘undoubtedly had the poorest standard of fire safety he’d ever seen in his 10 years of service’.
Loose wiring, holes in the ceilings and roof, and combustible materials in corridors meant a fire could have easily started at any time, and would have spread rapidly.
Insufficient exit routes, broken smoke detectors and fire extinguishers that hadn’t been serviced for almost 20 years meant it would have been almost impossible to escape a blaze unharmed. Any escape routes would most likely have been engulfed in flames within minutes.
Mr Green said: “This is a very serious case. The layout of the building itself, which was split into 10 bedsits, was extremely hazardous and any fire was likely to be so advanced before discovery that escape would be impossible.
“Going into a tenant’s bedsit would provide little or no resistance to fire. There were no seals or fire protection on the doors and the mains electrics were badly wired.
“If the fire started in one bedsit, there was no means of alerting anyone else as there were no inter-connective alarms. Many of the tenants were vulnerable due to age and disability, meaning there was a greater risk to such occupants.
“The breach was long-standing and in interview the Silvesters revealed some tenants had been living there for 34 years or more.
“The risks in this case were obvious. Getting a risk assessment done isn’t rocket science.”
Cllr Silvester, a former Cheshire East deputy council leader, was warned by the fire service that all tenants had to be re-homed until the problems were rectified – but it was later discovered tenants were still living there.
Mr Green added: “Efforts were made by the Silvesters to mask the fact the notice had been breached. Tenants were asked to make sure their cars weren’t present so it looked like no-one was still living there after the notice had been served.
“That is a serious aggravating feature and demonstrates an indifferent attitude to the level of risk.”
Referring the case to crown court for sentencing, chairman of the bench Stewart Cockburn said: “We’ve considered the facts placed before us very carefully. The breaches created a very serious risk to the safety of tenants and as owners of the property for at least 11 years you should have been aware of the fire regulations. You didn’t take sufficient steps to enforce the prohibition order for the safety of tenants.