Landlord admits manslaughter in gas-fire case

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A landlord yesterday admitted to the manslaughter of a tenant who died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas fire.

In a case believed to be the first of its kind in Britain, Thomas Beedie, of Hull, Yorkshire, admitted the manslaughter of Tracy Murphy, 19, at Sheffield Crown Court. Miss Murphy was found dead in her flat in Pearson Park, Hull, on 30 November 1993.

Beedie changed his plea after more than two days of legal argument; Mr Justice Clarke immediately adjourned the case until Monday for sentencing, and Beedie was granted bail.

Miss Murphy, a waitress, had complained of headaches and had seen her doctor during the two months she lived in the flat. She lived with her fiance, who was away on business when she died.

Hull City Council's environmental health department and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) earlier prosecuted Beedie for the young woman's death.

In the HSE prosecution in 1994 he was found guilty of failing to maintain the gas fire in Miss Murphy's room and he and his wife were each fined pounds 1,500. The fire, which was supposed to be checked every year, had not been looked at for nine years.

In July 1994 Beedie was taken to court by Hull City Council and was found guilty of 15 offences under the Housing Regulations Act.

He received a two-year conditional discharge and was ordered to pay pounds 1,000 costs.

In September 1994, a jury at the inquest into Miss Murphy's death ruled that she had been unlawfully killed.

There were 27 deaths last year from carbon monoxide poisoning from domestic appliances and 208 others who were overcome by fumes.The HSE has run advertising campaigns during the past two winters warning of the dangers of unserviced fires. This year, the gas industry and the Gas Consumers Council helped finance the campaign.

The housing charity Shelter has been campaigning for gas fires in rented accommodation to be properly serviced. A spokeswoman said: "Although it seems shocking that the landlord has been prosecuted for manslaughter, at the end of the day a young woman has died and no one can get her life back.

"Landlords must ensure that they maintain their gas fires."

Miss Murphy's father, Trevor Murphy, said his daughter's death would not have been in vain if the Government introduced mandatory licensing of landlords to ensure the safety of tenants.

"It must be brought in as a monument to Tracy," he said.

"You need a licence for a TV and an MoT for a car, yet you do not have to have a licence for something that can kill people," said Mr Murphy, who, with his wife Anita, has been fighting for more than two years, to prove his daughter's death was manslaughter.

"We have been fighting for justice for our daughter," he said, "and we have not been able to grieve because of it."

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