A Liverpool curry house owner has admitted housing staff in hidden rooms that could only be accessed by crawling through a tunnel.
Jahed Ali, 39, is now facing jail after admitting serious fire safety breaches at Liverpool Crown Court.
Fire officers initially learned that people were sleeping on the second floor of the Cafe Sekander building after a routine inspection in September 2012, and ordered that this be stopped on fire safety grounds.
Mr Ali later boarded up the staircase and claimed that nobody was sleeping there any longer. However, Chris Head, station manager for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, tells the Liverpool Echo, they discovered that the rooms were still in use.
"For all intents and purposes, it looked like a boarded up stairwell but what he had done was create a crawling space concealed underneath the stairway so that people could still sleep on the second floor," he says.
"They had to crawl some distance on their hands and knees under the stairway. This put them at risk of serious injury or death had a fire broken out. Had a fire occurred in the restaurant it would have been extremely difficult for the people on the second floor to escape."
Ali was charged with 13 breaches of fire safety regulations, of which he's admitted to ten. These include failing to remove combustible material on a means of escape – the boarded-up staircase - as well as failing to provide emergency routes and exits, fire detectors and alarms or removable locks on emergency doors.
Ali will be sentenced on May 20.
As rocketing property prices and rents put pressure on living conditions, fire services say they're increasingly finding people living in highly unsafe circumstances.
Last year, a report from the London Fire Brigade revealed that there had been 438 fires in London involving buildings that shouldn't have been occupied as a place to live, resulting in 13 fire deaths and 69 serious injuries.
"When people are forced to live in these sorts of buildings, they are at a far greater risk of having a fire as the buildings often don't contain vital safety features like fire doors and alarms, which can be the difference between life and death," commented he brigade's third officer, Dave Brown.
Councils have been given more money to clamp down on unsafe housing, and the government has increased the amount that rogue landl;ords can be fined.
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