Camden Council handed £500k fine for failing to fit smoke alarm in block of flats where woman died in a fire

Magdalena Fink died in the 2017 blaze

Fire chiefs said a council given a £500,000 fine after it failed to fit a smoke alarm where a woman died has improved safety since the tragedy.

Paralegal Magdalena Fink died after a fire started in the early hours in an understairs cupboard in the communal staircase of her Camden Council-owned block of flats in Daleham Gardens, Swiss Cottage, in November 2017.

The staircase was completely alight and impassable when firefighters arrived, and Fink was unable to escape from her first-floor home in the blaze just months after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

A district judge ordered the council to pay the fine plus £41,100 costs and a victim surcharge after ruling that it failed provide a suitable alarm or make sure there was a safe means of escape.

At an inquest into Fink’s death, coroner Mary Hassell said there were smoke detector alarms in the communal areas of the property, but they were not loud on the first floor and it was unclear if they were working.

She issued a prevention of future deaths to the council, raising her concerns about fire safety.

Four years before the blaze, a fire risk assessment (FRA) said the building was high risk and needed an alarm system in the communal areas, linked to heat detection in the flats, and extra standalone detection within the flats.

Camden put a temporary smoke detector in the staircase and had replaced a couple of other detectors which failed before 2017.

However, most of the work had not started before the fatal fire.

The 2013 FRA said flat doors had to be replaced as they were ill fitting and breached regulations and there was rubbish stored in cupboards under the main staircase.

The council pleaded guilty in a March 2023 hearing, which reduced the fine handed down by District Judge John McGarva.

A year after Fink’s inquest, a coroner warned the council again as there was no smoke alarm in one of its flats in Brassey Road, West Hampstead, where Tony Goodridge died from fumes and smoke burns in November 2018 after a fire broke out there and the roof partially collapsed.

Assistant coroner Sarah Bourke told the council to take action after the “intense fire”.

London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “This case demonstrates how important it is that building managers properly prioritise safety works highlighted in risk assessments.

“Bringing this prosecution against Camden Council has been about ensuring lessons are learned so we can reduce the likelihood of anything like this happening again. We’re pleased to see that since 2017, the council have been actively engaging with us to improve resident safety across the borough.”

He reminded landlords that they have “a clear responsibility under the law to ensure their premises meet all fire safety requirements and are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and keep their residents safe”.

Camden has set up a fire safety scrutiny committee since Fink’s death and hired a director of resident safety to ensure concerns highlighted in risk assessments are put right.

The council said: “Our deep sympathies remain with the family and friends of Magdalena Fink, who tragically lost her life in this incident. We are also deeply sorry for the impact this incident has had on the residents who were living at Daleham Gardens at the time.”

It said it was “truly sorry” that “Daleham Gardens did not meet the high standards of fire safety” when Fink died.

“Camden has made a clear and public commitment to achieving the highest standard of resident safety, and since 2017, we have invested significantly in improving safety across our housing.”

This includes fitting appropriate fire doors, emergency lighting, fire alarms and fire stopping. The council also has a fire safety team and has set up new forums for residents and the London Fire Brigade to raise safety concerns and issues.

The council added: “We have publicly committed to resident safety through our Fire and Building Safety Charter, which guides our approach on resident safety.”

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