School Foundation and Fire Risk Assessor prosecuted

Wakefield Grammar School Foundation and its former fire risk assessor Dr James Gibson were prosecuted by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority (WYFRA) over issues at three schools.

Wakefield Express reported on the prosecutions of the foundation (WGSF) and Dr Gibson, with WYFRA’s case at Leeds Magistrates Court outlining that its fire protection inspectors visited Wakefield Girls’ High School in February 2017, at which they noted a ‘number of concerns’ including coat hooks lining escape routes and a ‘partially obstructed’ final exit door, before a follow up inspection noted a further ‘number’ of other issues.

These included the removal of doors to cloakroom areas, and devices fitted to several fire doors that meant the units ‘would have failed to close in the event of a fire’. After this, an inspection of Mulberry House Nursery School in March 2017 found that children’s coats and bags ‘were being stored in an area that served [as] a means of escape’, while a visit to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School that same month also discovered ‘coats and bags in areas open to the means of escape’.

WYFRA stated that this was ‘contrary to advice that had been issued in previous weeks’, while the exit doors within the school’s main hall ‘had also been blocked by chairs and other equipment during the school day’. At court, WGSF pleaded guilty to failing to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment at the high school and grammar school, as well as to failing to take general fire precautions at those two schools.

Dr Gibson meanwhile pleaded guilty to failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment at all three schools, with sentencing for the foundation and Dr Gibson committed to Leeds Crown Court in January 2020. District Judge Marie Mellon stated: ‘I of course accept that Mr Gibson is a man of impeccable character. But a number of children were exposed to risk and some very young, very vulnerable children were exposed to risk. The two defendants are inextricably linked.’

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