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Norwich landlord faces jail after horror blaze

PUBLISHED: 07:34 16 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:52 02 July 2010

Michael Billings - facing jail

Michael Billings - facing jail

Christine Cunningham

One of Norwich's biggest private landlords could face jail after he admitted serious breaches in fire and health and safety regulations which led to a blaze in which a young woman nearly died.

One of Norwich's biggest private landlords could face jail after he admitted serious breaches in fire and health and safety regulations which led to a blaze in which a young woman nearly died

In the fire involving four terraced houses in Magdalen Street in Norwich the young woman tenant suffered horrific 80 per cent burns and was given just a one per cent chance of survival.

However she miraculously survived and attended Norwich Crown Court yesterday to see landlord Michael Billings, 55, plead guilty to the charges.

Billings, - who is said to own more than 100 properties in the city area, and who lives at Ashman's Hall, in Barsham near Beccles, admitted 14 offences of breaching safety and putting his tenants at risk, in a prosecution brought by Norfolk Fire Service and the Health and Safety Executive.

Among the charges the landlord admitted is failing to take general fire precautions and to ensure the premises were equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment, fire detectors and alarms.

He also admitted failing to comply with the requirement that the flats he was renting were able to be evacuated as quickly and safely as possible and also for flouting gas appliance guidelines, putting his tenants at risk.

Adam Budworth, prosecuting, said that Billings' breaches in health and safety and fire regulations had “very serious and significant consequences”.

He said that Billings had shown “a complete disregard” about his tenant's safety in the face of repeated warnings to him and said that in the fire the victim had suffered 80 per cent burns to her body.

“She was given an expectation of one per cent survival, but she did survive and attends here in court.”

Judge Paul Downes adjourned sentence for reports until May 7 but warned Billings that all sentencing options would be open to the court.

After the case no one from the Health and Safety Executive or Norfolk Fire Service wanted to comment on the case until after the sentencing hearing.

This is the second time that Billings has been prosecuted for health and safety breaches which put his tenants at risk.

In 1998 he was ordered to pay £6000 for flouting gas appliance guidelines. The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted Billings after finding flues, pipes, cookers and boilers in a serious state of disrepair at properties he owned at Rosebery Road and Unthank Road, in Norwich.

A former North Sea rig engineer Billings started his bedsit rental business in 1978 when he bought a house on Cromer Road and rented it out.

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