Six convicted for safety breaches at 'death-trap' shisha bar - including blocking fire exit with barrels of DIESEL
The fire service ordered the venue to close but bosses flouted the order by continuing to host parties for as many as 150 people
Managers and employees of a shisha bar branded a ‘death-trap’ over serious fire safety failings have been convicted in a landmark prosecution.
The Oasis Lounge on Great Jackson Street, Hulme, was torn down in February 2013 because it was deemed to be a fire risk. The venue, one long room with settees, was covered by a flammable Bedouin style marquee and its only fire exit was blocked by barrels of diesel. Customers smoked Turkish style water pipes but the fire service said smouldering charcoal made the premises high risk and it was ordered to close immediately. Managers however, flouted the order by continuing to host parties for as many as 150 people. Now four men and two women have been convicted of a string of fire safety offences in what is thought to be biggest prosecution of its kind.
The trial heard barrels of red diesel, used to fuel heaters, blocked the bar’s only fire exit, which could only be opened by pulling a rag attached to a broken metal push bar. The fire alarm also was not switched on and electrical extension cables ‘littered the floor’.
Ultimately, Manchester council managers had to use Building Act legislation to tear the venue down.
Assistant County Fire Officer Peter O’Reilly said customers could have died. He added: “This prosecution has been one of the largest and most complex ever brought by a fire service in the UK. “The defendants showed an unprecedented and blatant disregard for the safety of staff and customers. There was a real danger that innocent members of the public would have been trapped and suffered serious injuries or been killed had a fire occurred". The business was in a warehouse in which a marquee had been erected.
Fire safety officers from GMFRS tried on many occasions to help the Oasis Lounge comply with fire safety regulations, but their efforts were ignored. Such were the concerns of officers from GMFRS that they issued a Prohibition Notice banning anyone from entering the property.
The managers at the Oasis Lounge ignored the notice, tore it down from the front of the premise and only allowed customers in and out through the back door. They continued to trade for six weeks hosting hundreds of people in a building with one fire exit blocked with cans of red diesel.
Joseph Hart, prosecuting, said: “Hundreds of people would have only one escape, an emergency door surrounded by combustibles including barrels of red diesel that could only be opened by yanking a duster and putting a shoulder to it. “You can be sure that Wali Yakub and Tajamul Khan had some degree of control of the Oasis Lounge and are responsible for the breaches. You can be sure they opened in spite of the prohibition notice.”
David Pojur, defending Tajamul Khan, called into question the evidence of council officials who told the court Mr Khan had responsibility for the Oasis Lounge. Mr Pojur said his client was a good student who had just been helping out at the shisha bar and the case against him was based on “misrememberings and professional gossip.”
The jury heard evidence from numerous fire safety, council and police officers as well as seeing evidence collected from Facebook by the GMFRS legal team.
Assistant County Fire Officer and Director of Prevention and Protection, Peter O’Reilly, said: “This prosecution has been one of the largest and most complex ever brought to court by a fire service in the UK.
“Their defiance was so great that Manchester City Council had to use their powers under the 1984 Building Act to demolish the marquee, only then did they stop trading. “GMFRS always tries to support businesses and make it as easy as possible for them to comply with the law and keep people safe.
“A Prohibition Notice was served on the Oasis Lounge on December 21, 2012, and on that date and subsequent dates, our officers offered advice and assistance on how to make the premises safe so it could reopen.
“These offers were disregarded. The people, who have now been proven to be responsible for the management of the Oasis Lounge, ignored and rejected those offers. “They continued to open putting hundreds of people at risk, even ignoring the findings of their own fire risk assessment.
“Wali Yaqub and Tajamul Khan knew there was no working fire alarm, they knew that smoking shisha increased fire risk, they also chose to store combustible items on the escape route and ignore a defective fire door.
“This case has involved many hours of investigation not only by GMFRS, but also our partners in Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council.
“It should send a clear message to those who disregard fire safety that they cannot hide behind aliases, false identities and a tissue of lies because we will pursue those who put lives at risk.”
Story collated by Liz Turnbull.
Registered Office: Southwold House, 66 Botley Road, Park Gate, Southampton, United Kingdom
Company number: 07810000