'It was only a matter of time before someone was killed'

Residents near a hotel in Preson where a man died following a brutal attack warned the authorities someone would be killed there just weeks before the shocking death.

Thursday, 6th September 2018, 6:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th September 2018, 7:46 pm
Jonathan Palgrave, top left, of the Clifton Hotel in Preston died after being assaulted. Paul Ellerker, bottom left, was convicted of his manslaughter

Jonathan Palgrave, 35, was found collapsed in The Clifton Hotel on May 20 this year.

The 35-year-old died two days later from injuries sustained from a head wound caused by a single punch from another resident, Paul Ellerker.

Ellerker, who had served jail terms for attacking his former partner, is now serving a four years and three months after admitting his manslaughter.

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The case has opened a wider debate on houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) after figures obtained by the Post showed the crime rate for communities in the Fishergate Hill area of Preston is much higher than the average rate across the county - which some residents blame on the well-documented problems linked to some of the homes of multiple occupancy (HMOs) in the area.

There is no doubt HMOs have an important place in the city’s skyline, particularly in providing single people and students affordable accommodation amid an increase in demand for hostel and bedsit accommodation.

But today residents impacted by problems stemming from some of them have called for action to bring agencies involved with problem tenants to account.

One resident, who did not wish to be named, predicted someone would be killed at one of the properties in a damning letter to the Police and Crime Commissioner, just four weeks before Jonathan Palgrave was brutally attacked.

He said: “The visibility coupled with the length of time the multi-agency failure on Fishergate Hill in the Riversway Ward has been allowed to continue is an outrage to local residents and business owners who live and work in the area and have had to endure and suffered from crime and anti-social behaviour as a consequence of said failure.

“Anyone walking down the Fishergate Hill upon which County Hall sits can ascertain this failure, as can anyone who conducts a cursory Google search of the problem premises on Fishergate Hill or reads the monthly residents’ newsletter where problem premises are directly referred to in almost every publication that I have read.

“It’s clear a ‘County Lines Methodology’ was being operated at both premises and local residents have been informed of a stabbing, death and a Scouse turf war being waged in the area prior to Jonathan Palgrave’s death.

“An express warning that it was only a matter of time before a person was killed by one of the residents in the Clifton Hotel on Fishergate in Preston was given to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, as it was clear that an executive approach among multiple agencies was needed to address the same.

“The escalation of serious violence occurring on Fishergate was outlined and a request made the both the Clifton Hotel and Essex Hotel be closed to safeguard their occupants and local residents. But both remained open.

“It appears the death of Jonathan Palgrave was the necessary threshold to serve notice on the residents of the Clifton Hotel to vacate.

“There is daily, blatant, drug dealing going on, virtually on the doorstep of County Hall.”

The concerned resident believes an inquest should be held for Mr Palgrave so that what he dubs “multi-agency failures” are properly investigated by an independent body.

He also says the practice of housing of vulnerable people in problem premises is at odds with recent publicity around police concerns over County Lines - a practice where city gangs expanding their illegal drug operations into new areas.

Lancashire Police were passed the resident’s letter by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw.

A force spokesman said: “We will continue to work with landlords and local authorities where concerns are raised about anti-social behaviour at an address.

“As a constabulary we are committed to dealing with anti-social behaviour and disorder which can have a devastating effect on our communities and we will use all the powers available to us to keep people safe and feeling safe.

“We will continue to tackle these issues while protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

A spokesperson for the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office added: “The Police and Crime Commissioner is aware of the community concerns that have been raised with his office and the multi-agency approach that has been coordinated to address these. The office of the Police and Crime Commissioner can confirm that correspondence in relation to concerns around the Clifton Hotel has been received. Due to the operational nature of the concerns these were forwarded to Lancashire Constabulary.”

Previous figures from between November 2012 and November 2015 show police recorded 104 incidents at the location, and in a Freedom of Information request admitted spending the equivalent of nine days, 14 hours, 42 minutes and 17 seconds there.

There were a further 104 incidents recorded at the nearby Essex Hotel between November 2015 and August 2017.

In a further blow to locals, local beat bobby PC Carl Ingram who fought to tackle issues caused by tenants, has just retired.

Paul Sindall, 41, lives opposite one such property and featured in the Post five years ago when he revealed his family’s torment caused by a catalogue of crime and anti-social behaviour from homeless tenants housed by a charity.

Today Paul said: “The house opposite is nowhere near as bad as it was, with some pleasant tenants. It was sold by the previous owners and improved inside to offer a reasonable standard of living and thereby attracted better tenants. However, in general terms, the problems in Fishergate Hill remain, and this has a bearing in terms of fallout into our street and other nearby locations. Drugs are rife in the area and someone was stabbed recently due to an altercation involving drugs.”

From August 2017 to July 2018 the Riversway ward had a crime rate of 130.6 per 1,000 people in the population - above the district average of 108.3, and far above Lancashire’s county average of 79.8 - though it does represent a slight decrease in crime of 0.4 per cent.

There are 3,080 households recorded in the area, and around 6,120 people. As a comparison, the ward of Ribbleton, which has 3,481 homes had a crime rate of 111.2.

‘We want to be positive’

As Ellerker was jailed on Tuesday, the hotel, renamed “Responsible House”, opened its doors to its first client after a refurbishment that is expected to run into more than £10,000.

At the helm is former Preston Council worker Michelle Purdy, who has taken over the lease with her newly established firm Responsible Housing Ltd.

The Preston-born businesswoman, who has worked in social housing in London, says she decided to return to her home city to help the people around her. She is hoping to move away from previous negativity surrounding the venue.

It is understood it will receive referrals from various sources, the primary one being Preston Council, for people at risk of homelessness but not on the priority list for the council.

The property is owned by businessman William Strettle. It was leased by Danny Strettle (no relation) until the tragedy, though despite several attempts he did not wish to speak to the Post.

Michelle took over last month.

She says: “It does what it says on the tin basically.

“It’s going to be a place that gives the people of Preston who are down on their luck a helping hand, for example maybe where the council can’t provide accommodation and the person is not in a position to fork out a massive deposit, such as after a break up.

“It is going to be for single people and there are 26 bedrooms across four floors. Some rooms are for over 35s the others for under 35s.

“We are working with the council to get the property to a given standard and are following their advice. We will follow whatever the legislation says, we are going to be compliant with everything.

“We want to be positive and don’t want to dwell on what’s happened before.”

Closing the loophole

Preston Council’s Housing Standards team has to ensure that any HMO in the city it becomes aware of meets the standards applicable to this type of accommodation under the 2004 Housing Act.

Broadly speaking, the standards are set by a risk assessment process which determines the level of safety requirements - this means ‘less risky’ HMOs, such as small student shared houses, may require less safety measures than a large complex HMO that houses occupiers with other needs.

In most areas of Preston, planning consent is not required for converting a house to HMO use for up to six occupiers, but all larger ones require planning consent.

Until recently, the smaller properties have not required a mandatory license

When the law changed in 2004, it became a requirement for a HMO that covers three or more storeys and contains five or more unrelated occupiers to have a licence.

Some operators made a decision to split their large properties into smaller discreet units that avoided the needs of mandatory licensing, and the Clifton Hotel also avoided the need for a mandatory license using this loophole.

Each floor of the building was made into a ‘self-contained’ HMO on one storey to meet legislation.

But another amendment from October 1 this year sees the Government will remove the rule that insists each property must contain three habitable storeys, meaning that many will have to be brought within the licensing regime.

Preston Council says it is currently preparing for the forthcoming changes and has already spoken to the operator of such properties about the need to apply for a license in due course.