Landlady avoids jail after gas death

MDL091230A2 - Stanley common the Brick Yard
MDL091230A2 - Stanley common the Brick Yard

A landlady has been handed a 16-month 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 on his 51st birthday sat on his settee with his feet up on a footstool.

Worried friends had gone to see him at his home on The Brickyard, Stanley Common, in December 2009, after he wasn’t answering or returning their calls.

His partner, Susan Davies, was also almost overcome by the carbon monoxide fumes, but survived because she went to bed early and the carbon monoxide levels weren’t as high upstairs.

A neighbour also became ill and was taken to hospital as a result of being exposed to the fumes.

Mr Newton’s landlady, Dr Victoria Martindale, 39, was sentenced at Derby Crown Court 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.

The property’s boiler had been condemned and disconnected by a National Grid employee in May 2008 when he visited the house to fit a new gas meter. He placed a sticker on the appliance and left a letter for the landlord, which was never passed on to her.

The couple did not use the boiler, the court heard, until Mr Newton decided to reconnect it himself in October 2009.

At an earlier hearing, Martindale pleaded guilty to seven breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.

Prosecuting, David Ferrer, said: “The sad death of Stephen Newton was completely avoidable had the defendant complied with her statutory duties.”

In mitigation Kevin Waddingham said: “Her personal issues have been exacerbated by the case, the death of Stephen Newton, the regret it brings, the shame it brings, the police interviews, two inquests, it’s taken four years.”

Martindale is now living in the house where Mr Newton died. Mr Waddingham said: “She’s trapped in a property she never wanted to return to, in a property that daily reminds her of what has happened.

“All of the neighbours are still there, she’s alienated from them. She has experienced humiliation.”

Dr Martindale was handed 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.

Sentencing Martindale, Judge Michael Elsom said: “The cost to Dr Martindale has been high, not as high as to those who lost their loved one but it has been high.

“She has had to bear the knowledge since January 2010 that she has been responsible for the death of a fellow human being.”

Speaking after the hearing Health and 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 Ms 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.”