THE FIRE service has been absolved of all blame at an inquest into the death s of a mother and daughter in Fishermead in 2010.
Coroner Tom Obsorne, in summing up on Thursday, said that both Bola Ejifunmilayo , 29, and three-year-old Fiyin were unlawfully killed, citing failure to meet fire regulations at their home, as a contributing factor.
Bola and Fiyin died in September 2010 as a result of an arson attack at their home – an unlicensed home in multiple occupancy (HIMO) in Fishermead Boulevard, Fishermead. However, their bodies were not found until 36 hours later.
Last year Bola’s landlord Lookman Adeyemi was jailed for four months and ordered to pay £10,000 costs for breaching fire safety regulations in the property, which had just two smoke alarms – minus batteries.
Meanwhile Barbara Zhanje, the jealous former girlfriend of another tenant, is serving 12 years for manslaughter for starting the fire.
Mr Osborne said that he could find no evidence to indicate either the Bucks Fire and Rescue Service or Thames Valley Police were at fault – however he noted that failures in communications delayed fire fighters from finding the bodies.
He said: “They ( f ire and rescue teams) made every attempt to gain access, it just was not possible. Even if firefighters had been able to gain access to their bedroom at 2:05am, they would have been recovering the bodies of both.
“It was a matter of honour and pride for the firefighters not to send out the ‘all persons accounted for’ message, and there is a feeling of remorse of and regret that they were not found until the next day.”
Mr Osborne however pointed the finger at landlord Lookman Adeyemi for failing to equip his unlicensed HIMO.
He said: “These breaches contributed to their deaths. It affects people’s lives. This is not a matter of bureaucracy, but a matter of life and death.
“If their house was compliant with all the regulations, both Bola and Fiyin would have escaped. The fire and rescue service would have been able to get to them.
“The problem with unlicensed HIMOs is of considerable concern, not just in Milton Keynes, but all over the country. The fact that it was not registered is not the fault of Milton Keynes Council.”
As a result of the hearing, Mr Osborne will be highlighting his findings and writing to MP Eric Pickles, Secretary of State, and MP Grant Shapps, Minister of State for Housing,
“I will be writing to the Secretary of State suggesting making it a criminal offence for landlords not to alert the relevant authorities that their property is a home in multiple occupancy, and to urgently consider whether new HIMOs should have sprinkler systems, if not all newly build homes.
“Not to act will almost certainly result in more deaths.”
Adrian Crook, Deputy Chief Officer of Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service apologised to the Ejifunmilayo family for the service’s failure to discover the bodies sooner than they did, and admitted that lessons have been learned as a result of the inquest.
He said: “This fire was started deliberately, in a malicious act, with inadequate fire measures in place. By the time we got to the scene, a severe fire had taken hold. There is nothing we could have done to save them. I am, however, sorry that weren’t able to recover the bodies sooner.
“We feel this tragic loss deeply. We accept the findings in the verdict and as a learning organisation, we take them very seriously.
“ The coroner has commended the firefighters for their bravery, commitment and professionalism. He has formally commended the service for the openness and transparency and willingness to learn from this hearing – in Mr Osborne’s words, it’s unprecedented.
“The property was not fitted with proper safety precautions and had been secretly converted to a house in multiple occupation. These were key factors in placing the occupants and the firefighters at great risk.
“Working smoke alarms would have significantly increased their chance of survival and a sprinkler system would have almost certainly saved their lives.
“Despite all this, we accept that we could have done more to ease the suffering of Bola and Fiyin’s family by locating their bodies sooner. It gets to the heart of any fire fighter. With some better communication, we could have come to a sooner conclusion in finding their bodies.
He added that no-one had been disciplined as a result of the fire service’s own internal investigations.
“In terms of discipline, no. I made that very deliberate decision at the start of the inquiry. If things are done under the banner of ‘discipline’ things tend to go underground, so to speak. As an organisation, we will deal with everything from this in an open and transparent way.”
Linda Ellen, head of housing management at Milton Keynes Council welcomed Mr Osborne’s intent to write to the Secretary of State, highlighting the dangers of unlicensed HIMOs.
She said: “There was no blame attached to the council. We did everything possible to try and gain access to the property and nothing more could have been done from our side.
“We are very pleased with the outcome and move things forward as a result of these unfortunate deaths.
“There is a perception that there are a lot of unlicensed HIMOs in Milton Keynes, but the truth is we know about most of them. Last year, we carried out 600 inspections in HIMOs and over the last four years, we’ve only had to prosecute 13. It’s important to note that the vast majority of landlords are very good, offering high quality accommodation, but it just the minority that cause problems.
“If we have a register of every landlord renting a property, it will make it easier for us to gain access to those properties and to make sure that adequate safety measures are in place.”