John Johnson was the Director of the Housing Department of the town council of Busttown. His job, which he has held for 10 years, was to oversee the provision of social housing to the people of Busttown, and this included allocating housing, keeping the housing stock in good repair and safe for habitation, arranging for works to be done where needed, and collecting rent.
In January 2016, there had been a fire in one of Busttown’s council housing blocks, Ivory Tower, in which 6 people had died. The Coroner in her report, published in April 2016, wrote the fire had spread very quickly because of the combination of there being no sprinkler system and the external cladding on the building, which caused the fire to spread rapidly upwards in the tower. The cladding was made of a highly flammable material and acted as a fire accelerant. The coroner concluded that had there been a sprinkler system, and had the cladding not been made of this material, the Fire Brigade would have been able to evacuate the building and brought everyone to safety. The Coroner recommended in her report that all of Busttown Housing stock be fitted with a sprinkler system forthwith, and that any cladding made of the same material be removed, and any future cladding works be carried out using fire-******ant materials. Should these recommendations not be followed, and especially given the many fire hazards commonly present in large housing blocks, the Coroner concluded in her report, future casualties would be inevitable. The Coroner also noted that any construction firm would know the risk inherent in the cladding of the type used in Ivory Tower, but that some firms used it because it was cheaper than other materials.
The cladding had been added to the Ivory Tower by the OutsourceRUs Ltd, a construction firm contracted to improve the external appearance of all of Busttown’s housing stock over a four year period, ending in 2019.
In January 2018, there was another fire, this time in Faulty Tower. The fire spread again very rapidly and this time 20 people died.
After the investigation into the Faulty Tower fire, the Coroner noted that Faulty Tower had no sprinkler system, and had the same type of cladding (installed by OutsourceRUs in 2017) as Ivory Tower, leading to the fire Faulty Tower to develop in a similar way as the fire at Ivory Tower in 2016. Once again, the Coroner noted that had there been a sprinkler system, and had there been no cladding, or cladding made of fire-******ant material at Faulty Tower, the Fire Brigade would have been able to evacuate the building and in all likelihood there would have been no casualties.
In court, Mr Johnson had said that he preferred a hands-off approach to managing the Housing Department. He also said that the Coroner’s report on the Ivory Tower fire had been on his desk for a while, but he hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, which is why he hadn’t followed up any of the Coroner’s recommendations. He had thought the Ivory Tower fire was a one-off freak accident. Also, he said that he had given OutsourceRUs Ltd free rein
to complete the works entirely as they saw fit, and he thought he could trust the company, as it was run by his brother in law.
Mr Johnson was convicted of Gross Negligence Manslaughter. The Crown Court Judge, Judge Tomlinson, said, “Mr Johnson’s conduct (or rather lack thereof) had fallen so far below the standard expected from a reasonable Housing Director, that it was gross, and carried an obvious and serious risk of death, and had indeed caused the deaths of 20 people.”
Mr Johnson appealed his conviction in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), which was dismissed, but he has obtained leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Johnson is appealing to the Supreme Court on the following basis:
1. That the Crown Court judge erred in directing the jury on Gross Negligence Manslaughter because the directions failed to specify that when assessing whether there is an obvious and serious risk of death account should be taken of D’s knowledge at the time. As Mr Johnson was not aware of a serious risk of death in Faulty Tower, he should not be convicted of Gross Negligence Manslaughter.
2. That the Crown Court judge had failed to direct the jury on causation and that in fact the contractor’s decision to use highly flammable material in the Faulty Tower cladding had broken the chain of causation.
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