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Norwich student launches £2m damages claim against former landlord

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 November 2010 | UPDATED: 12:25 18 November 2010

Miss Skalli

Miss Skalli

JEREMY DURKIN

Norwich student launches £2m damages claim against former landlord

A Norwich student who lost all the skin below her neck during a horrific fire in her rented flat has launched a £2m damages claim against her former landlord.

Catering student Layla Skalli was 19 in April last year when she suffered 80pc burns in a blaze which tore through her flat in Magdalen Street in north Norwich.

Layla, now 20, was subjected to such intense heat that her hair melted to the floor of her bedroom and she burnt the hands of the fireman who rescued her through his protective clothing.

Her landlord, Michael Billings, 55, of Barsham, near Beccles, Suffolk, was jailed for 30 months on May 7 at Norwich Crown Court, when he admitted 14 breaches of health and fire safety laws. That was later cut to 21 months after he agreed to pay Miss Skalli £20,000 in compensation.

But now Miss Skalli, who told The Evening News in May that her life had been “destroyed” by her injuries, has launched a £2m civil claim against her former landlord at London’s High Court.

Christopher Wilson-Smith QC, for Miss Skalli, told Judge Richard Lissack QC that the landlord’s insurers have refused to indemnify him for the damages claimed by Miss Skalli, and that a £2m freezing order has been imposed over his assets.

The trial of her case is now set to start next autumn but, in a preliminary hearing, James Laughland, for Billings, asked for permission to call an expert on “human behaviour in the face of fire”, as part of his bid to defend the claim.

Setting out the basis of Miss Skalli’s claim, Mr Wilson-Smith told the judge: “It is plain that there was neg-ligence in failing to have adequate fire precautions, smoke alarms, fire-fighting equipment and emergency lighting which caused her and her co-tenants a risk of death or serious injury.

“Had any of the aforementioned steps been taken, she would have been alerted to the fire and would have escaped without suffering the injuries that she did.”

Mr Laughland however contended that the situation was not so simple, claiming that Miss Skalli had alco-hol in her blood when she was found at the heart of the blaze and had been wearing tights and a bra in bed.

“The question arises whether she could have made good her escape, which tends to plant the thought that maybe she had been drinking and maybe had fallen asleep on the bed in her day clothes,” he told the court.

Judge Lissack granted Mr Laughland permission to call the expert at the end of the preliminary hearing, and preparations for the full trial of her damages claim will now continue in earnest.

Norwich Crown Court heard earlier this year that fire broke out during the night at the flat shared by Miss Skalli and three others above a mobile phone shop.

Miss Skalli had gone to bed after a shift at the pub where she worked part-time as she studied at Norwich City College.

Two of her flatmates climbed down a drainpipe to escape and the other had been about to jump from a third-floor window at 1.15am when fire crews arrived.

Miss Skalli was given a less than 1pc chance of surviving her burns at Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital where she was unconscious for nine days as medics fought to save her using a revolutionary tech-nique from America.

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