Council ordered halt to construction days before fatal fire

A council has said it told the operator of a club to stop construction work less than two weeks before a nightclub worker was killed in a fire.

In August 2016, Tomas Ceida died at the Studio 338 club in Greenwich, south London. According to reports, he had been asleep in the building when the blaze took hold.

In March this year, coroner Andrew Harris warned that contractors might not be aware of current fire-safety rules, in a report into the circumstances of Ceida’s death.

He said that building firm JHS Contracts – a London-based company without an online presence and not registered under that name at Companies House – did not keep adequate documentation about its role on site, and had no evidence to show how individuals at the company ensured the competent adoption of fire safety and evacuation measures.

Harris also warned that Greenwich Council’s building-control department was aware of an acoustic wall not actually being a living wall as per planning permission granted in 2013, but did not follow this up with the leaseholder nor tell the fire brigade.

In a response to the concerns, written in May but only published this week on the coroner’s website, a Greenwich Council assistant director for planning and building control said the operator and leaseholder of Studio 338 – part of a company called Raduga Ltd – was told to halt its construction work.

The person was “instructed verbally on site on 25 July 2016 that the works to implement a steel-frame enclosure were unlawful, must cease and the structure must be removed”, the director said.

On the 25 July visit, it was also discovered that the acoustic ‘living wall’ had actually been covered in plastic grass, the director added.

The order to stop work was “formalised in writing” to Studio 338’s lawyer on 3 August 2016. The fire broke out on 9 August.

The director said that the council had been working more closely with other agencies, such as the London Fire Brigade (LFB), to share information about enforcement actions since 2018.

A response to the coroner from the LFB, also dated in May but published this week, said that the service was developing a new “premises risk database” that would help it better identify risky buildings.

“LFB is preparing to commence the process of tendering for a specialist contractor to develop a single point of reference premises-risk database, which will enable all information concerning premises to be centralised and available on demand,” it said.

“All firefighters and fire-safety personnel will have access to the database when it becomes available. This will ensure better preparedness by LFB for all operational and fire-safety contingencies.”

No responses from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) nor JHS Contracts, which were also asked to comment by the coroner, have been published yet. In March, the HSE said it would respond “in due course”.

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