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2nd October, 2002


PR 78/02


Charity regulator steps in after fire brigade report condemns safety standards at religious school

The Charity Commission has today written to the trustees of the Torath Chesed Yeshiva Trust, which runs Wellbury House, a school for Jewish boys in Hertfordshire. The letter requires the trustees not to re-open the school at Little Offley, until vital building work is completed and the school is given a clean bill of health from the Hertfordshire Fire Brigade. The letter has added urgency, as the new school term was due to begin on 7 October 2002.

An inspection at the school by Charity Commission investigators in April revealed a catalogue of safety and fire hazards.

Head of Investigations David Rich, who visited the school, said: "To my layman''s eyes it seemed like a death trap. Conditions were shocking. We saw very little in the way of fire safety equipment or fire safety instruction. We did see a broken glass panel in a door, cracked floor tiles just waiting for someone to trip on them, bare wires and emergency lights dangling precariously from the ceiling. I''m no expert but I wouldn''t want to send my own kids there."

The Charity Commission''s fears were confirmed in a Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service enforcement notice, served on the charity on 7 August 2002. The notice concluded that the Trust had failed to comply with workplace fire precautions legislation and it detailed a comprehensive schedule of works that it required the trustees to complete. Hazards included the lack of fire escapes, insufficient fire-fighting equipment, the lack of emergency lighting and fire signage, the absence of staff training and any emergency plan.

David Rich said: "We received a letter from the trustees in September indicating that this work would proceed. We must insist that the work is completed before the students return for the new term next Monday, and we require a firm commitment from the trustees to this effect. We have instructed the trustees about the duty of care they owe to the stakeholders of their charity - in this case the students at Wellbury House. It''s our job to ensure that duty of care is being properly exercised. Failure to comply with this requirement may inevitably involve further action against the trustees of this charity."


Notes to editors

1. The Charity Commission is the organisation responsible for the statutory regulation of charities in England and Wales.

2. The case into the Torath Chesed Yeshiva Trust was opened on 3 April 2002. Commission investigators visited Wellbury House on 29 April. Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue issued a compliance notice - under regulation 13 of The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, on 7 August 2002. The Commission issued an order to the trustees requiring them to provide information concerning the steps they would take to put things right, on 30 August. It wrote again to the trustees - via their representative - on .

3. Further information about the Charity Commission can be found via the internet or through the Charity Commission Contact Centre on 0870 333 0123.

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