A PUB owner and its former licensee have been spared jailed despite putting lives at risk by breaching fire safety regulations.

Burnley Crown Court heard how two residents had to work their way through a smoke-filled corridor to escape a blaze at The Mason Arms in Burnley Road East, Waterfoot.

Prosecutor Joseph Hart said a lack of maintenance by building owner Derek Cunningham Bulling meant the smoke alarm failed to sound during the fire, which happened at around 3.30pm on August 4. And one of the residents only woke up because he smelled smoke.

Mr Hart said nobody was injured in the blaze but an inspection of the building led safety inspectors to find a number of problems which were ‘so severe there was a serious and significant risk to life’.

The court heard how the fire is believed to have been started by a fault with an ice machine in the bar area.

But neither Bulling nor former landlady Natasha Taylor had a fire risk assessment in place. Taylor, who had shared responsibility for the basement, ground floor and bar with Bulling, had failed to provide adequate fire doors. Taylor had also failed to identify the fire risk to the first floor of a suspended ceiling over the bar.

Mr Hart said the smoke alarm, on the first floor lobby leading to to five converted flats on the second floor of the property, failed to sound because wires leading to its battery and buzzer had been disconnected. The court some smoke detectors had also been painted over and locks on residents doors had to be unlocked with a key meaning residents would have struggled to quickly escape. The emergency lighting control batteries were dead, meaning emergency exit signs wouldn’t have lit up, and one also had a bulb out.

Taylor, 31, of Burnley Road East, Waterfoot, admitted four fire safety breaches, Bulling, 56, of the Isle of Man, pleaded guilty to two breaches, while his company Dek Properties Company Ltd pleaded guilty to two.

Defending mother-of-two Taylor, Philp Holden said his client had fully co-operated with fire safety officers and spent her £15,000 life-savings on fixing defects at the pub before giving up her tenancy.

Mr Holden said: "You have before you a contrite young woman who has to some extent lost her good name by entering the pleas she had on this indictment. A woman who, in my submission, is very unlikely to come before the courts in the future.

"In my submission an immediate custodial term would be utterly catastrophic for this remorseful woman who is the primary care provider for two you children."

Defending Bulling and Dek Properties Company Ltd, Mark Ainsworth said his client is regarded as a 'decent and conciseness landlord' and he was 'ashamed' to be before the courts 'facing the consequences of failures on his part he didn't realise were taking place'.

Mr Ainsworth said: "This isn't a landlord who couldn't care less. Quite to the contrary. He did care but he didn't understand fully the responsibility that lay upon him. He is not someone who wilfully disregarded the responsibility that was placed upon him. He thought he was doing what was sufficient and he clearly wasn't. That was a failure. It was through ignorance."

Bulling was given an eight-month jail sentence, suspended for 24 months, and told to pay £7,500 costs. Taylor was given a four-month sentence, suspended for 12 months, and told to pay £750 costs. Dek must pay a £20,000 fine and £7,500 costs.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service group manager Tony Crook said: "There was more than one responsible person for these premises as it consisted of a ground floor bar and residential flats on the upper floors. As such they had a duty to liaise and co-operate to ensure that any people who use his premises were provided with a safe environment. It was fortunate that the fire occurred during the day and fewer people were on the premises at the time of the fire.

"Premises owners and leaseholders should ensure that their Fire Safety responsibilities are clearly defined in any contracts or lease agreements.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service will continue to focus our efforts and resources in providing advice and support to landlords that want it, but as with this case will adopt a robust enforcement approach to deal with those who compromise on their tenant’s safety. I hope that this case shows that all people who have responsibilities to meet fire safety obligations but fail to do so face severe penalties - not just financial but potentially custodial sentences as well."