THE former owner of a ‘death trap’ restaurant has been given the toughest sentence ever handed out to a city food business for health and safety breaches.
Wen Qaing Cai, who owned China House Restaurant in Aqueduct Street, Preston, was given a suspended jail sentence, ordered to pay more than £4,700, and must complete 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty to four offences under health and safety legislation.
Preston Magistrates’ Court heard that an inspection at the Chinese restaurant in May 2013 found “serious and life threatening health and safety breaches”.
Last year, the notorious restaurant was branded a potential death trap and the “most problematic” of all the city’s 450 licensed premises.
A city council licensing committee last year heard China House, formerly the Lime Kiln pub, became a ticking time bomb in 2013 after safety experts found an explosive cocktail of leaking bottled gas and botched electrical wiring in its cellar.
One spark could have caused an explosion powerful enough to wipe out the restaurant, flatten dozens of neighbouring houses and force the closure of the nearby West Coast mainline, costing millions in rail disruption.
Council chiefs said the sentence was the “most severe” in the past 10 years, with no records for before then.
Senior environmental health officer at Preston Council, Jonathan Cruickshank, said: “Due to timely interventions with our partner organisations, fortunately no-one was injured. If the illegal gas works had not been found it is likely that the consequences could have been a fire or explosion that could have seriously injured or killed staff and members of the public.”
Cai, 35, of Preston Road, Chorley, had pleaded guilty on April 24 to failing to protect the health and safety of his employees and others; failure to comply with a requirement for access to the cellar of the restaurant; and failure to ensure that gas work was carried out by an approved person.
He was sentenced to four concurrent terms of six months in prison, which were suspended for 12 months.
He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and pay a total of £4,779.87 – a £2,000 fine, £80 victim surcharge and £2,699.87 costs.
Back in 2013 when the health and safety inspectors went into the kitchen of the restaurant, they found the cooking range to be leaking gas.
Inspectors were also concerned because the flames were higher than expected and burning yellow – indicating that the gas equipment may have been powered by Liquid Propane Gas cylinders.
Further inspection of the staff living quarters found a hot water heater, the front of which had been removed.
Without the cover, the boiler was not operating efficiently and there was incomplete combustion, leading to the production of carbon monoxide.
A total of three prohibition notices were served to prevent Cai using any gas equipment until it had been checked and made safe by a competent person.
In his report, the area fire safety manager, Brad Walker, indicated that if a fire had occurred the impact on the emergency services and council resources would have been considerable.
The council’s cabinet member for planning and regulations, Coun John Swindells, added: “Health and safety is an area which is taken seriously in Preston. Most companies in Preston are run to a very high standard. However, we will not hesitate to take action against those that act illegally.”