Loophole that let fire deaths go unpunished closed

The owners of Rosepark Care Home walked free from court. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
The owners of Rosepark Care Home walked free from court. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
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A BILL, aimed at closing a legal loophole that prevented the prosecution of the owners of a care home where 14 residents died in a fire in 2004, passed an major hurdle yesterday after approval by the House of Lords.

The Partnership Prosecution Bill (Scotland) was introduced as a result of the collapse in 2007 of the legal case after the fire at the Rosepark Care Home in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, when a judge dismissed charges against owners Thomas and Anne Balmer and their son Alan over alleged safety breaches.

Another attempt to indict them failed in 2008 because prosecutors were unable to find a legal basis to bring a case. The family had dissolved the partnership which ran the care home which meant they were beyond prosecution.

In a subsequent fatal accident inquiry in 2011, it was found that the deaths were “preventable”.

Sheriff Brian Lockhart said at the time: “The management of fire safety at Rosepark was systematically and seriously defective. The deficiencies in the management of fire safety at Rosepark contributed to the deaths.

“Management did not have a proper appreciation of its role and responsibilities in relation to issues of fire safety.”

He said the “critical failing” was not to identify residents at the home as being at risk in the event of a fire, as well as failing to consider the “worst-case scenario” of a fire at night.

The failure to bring prosecution led to calls for a change in the law, which has now cleared the Lords. The bill is expected to be rubberstamped in the Commons in the next few months.

Liberal Democrat Advocate-General Lord Wallace, who is behind the bill, said: “It is the product of much collaborative effort between the UK government and the Scottish Law Commission. We have also worked closely with the Crown Office who support the bill.

“The Rosepark fire was a terrible tragedy, compounded by the fact prosecutors were unable to find a legal basis to bring those responsible for the deaths of 14 vulnerable people to justice. Closing this loophole is important and it will ensure no-one will have to endure the same frustrations as the bereaved families in this case in future.”

“Simply dissolving a partnership will no longer put you beyond prosecution.”

With the independence referendum coming up next year, Lord Wallace said that the bill highlighted the way Westminster can work for the benefit of Scotland.

He said: “The bill demonstrates the ability and commitment of the UK government to take forward Scottish legislation at Westminster to ensure the law for which it is responsible is effective.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said:“The Scottish Government welcomed legislation by the UK government introduced last year

“The Rosepark fire was an awful tragedy and the case has raised a genuine gap in the law which must be addressed. We hope the Bill will make progress to legislation.”