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BOSSES and workers at a shisha bar which was so dangerous it had to be torn down by Manchester City Council have been convicted in one of the biggest fire safety prosecutions ever seen in the UK.
The Oasis Lounge on Great Jackson Street, Hulme, was torn down after bosses flouted a Prohibition Notice banning people from entering the building for over a month.
Despite being made aware of safety concerns by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) the shisha bar continued to trade, putting customers’ lives at risk.
A jury at Manchester Crown Court found Wali Yaqub aged 35, of Mauldeth Road, Burnage; Tajamul Khan aged 26, of Nebo Street, Bolton and Bushra Javed aged 25, of Stainer Street, Longsight guilty of numerous fire safety offences.
Adeel Bhatti aged 26, of Chapel Way Gardens, Oldham; Ishtiaq Ahmed aged 36, of Chapelway Gardens, Royton, and Salma Jangeer aged 32 pleaded guilty during the three week trial. All six will be sentenced at a date yet to be fixed.
The court heard how Yaqub and Khan were in charge of the Oasis Lounge despite providing numerous false names and aliases to disguise their responsibility from the authorities.
The business was in a warehouse in which Yakub and Khan erected a marquee.
Fire safety officers from GMFRS tried on many occasions to help the Oasis Lounge comply with fire safety regulations, but their efforts were ignored.
Such were the concerns of officers from GMFRS that they issued a Prohibition Notice banning anyone from entering the property.
The bosses at the Oasis Lounge ignored the notice, tore it down from the front of the premise and only allowed customers in and out through the back door.
They continued to trade for six weeks hosting hundreds of people in a building with one fire exit blocked with cans of red diesel.
Joseph Hart, prosecuting, said: “Hundreds of people would have only one escape - an emergency door surrounded by combustibles including barrels of red diesel that could only be opened by yanking a duster and putting a shoulder to it.
“You can be sure that Wali Yakub and Tajamul Khan had some degree of control of the Oasis Lounge and are responsible for the breaches. You can be sure they opened in spite of the prohibition notice.”
Paul Williams defending Wali Yakub told the court his client had no responsibility for the Oasis Lounge and that Ishtiaq Ahmed had signed the contract for the marquee.
David Pojur defending Tajamul Khan called into question the evidence of council officials who told the court Mr Khan had responsibility for the Oasis Lounge.
Mr Pojur said his client was a good student who had just been helping out at the shisha bar and the case against him was based on “misrememberings and professional gossip.”
The jury heard evidence from numerous fire safety, council and police officers as well as seeing evidence collected from Facebook by the GMFRS legal team.
Assistant County Fire Officer and Director of Prevention and Protection, Peter O’Reilly, said: “This prosecution has been one of the largest and most complex ever brought to court by a fire service in the UK.
“The defendants showed an unprecedented and blatant disregard for the safety of staff and customers of the Oasis Lounge in Manchester over a six week period.
“There was a real danger that innocent members of the public would have been trapped and suffered serious injuries or been killed had a fire occurred in Oasis Lounge.
“You only need to look at what happened in Brazil in January 2013 when 241 people died in a nightclub fire to see how serious a fire in this property could have been. The disregard for fire safety at the Oasis Lounge, which occurred at the same time, could have seen many people lose their lives.
“Their defiance was so great that Manchester City Council had to use their powers under the 1984 Building Act to demolish the marquee – only then did they stop trading.
“The trial has followed a long and complex investigation and the guilty verdicts on Wali Yaqub, Tajamul Khan and Bushra Javed are testament to the hard work of our officers and our legal team who helped to bring this important case to court.
“It should also be mentioned that others involved in the management Ishtiaq Ahmed and Salma Jangeer pleaded guilty on the first day of the trial.
“GMFRS always tries to support businesses and make it as easy as possible for them to comply with the law and keep people safe.
“A Prohibition Notice was served on the Oasis Lounge on December 21, 2012, and on that date and subsequent dates, our officers offered advice and assistance on how to make the premises safe so it could reopen.
“These offers were disregarded. The people, who have now been proven to be responsible for the management of the Oasis Lounge, ignored and rejected those offers
“They continued to open putting hundreds of people at risk, even ignoring the findings of their own fire risk assessment.
“Wali Yaqub and Tajamul Khan knew there was no working fire alarm, they knew that smoking shisha increased fire risk, they also chose to store combustible items on the escape route and ignore a defective fire door.
“Their actions were driven by a desire to make as much money as possible, but their disregard for fire safety put all their customers’ lives in grave danger.
“Wali Yaqub and Tajamul Khan denied their involvement to the end, but the jury have seen through their web of deceit.
“Bushra Javed worked at the Oasis Lounge on at least two occasions and Adeel Bhatti once during January and although they were not responsible for making the decision to stay open by working there they allowed the owners to profit from putting lives at risk.
“This case has involved many hours of investigation not only by GMFRS, but also our partners in Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council.
“It should send a clear message to those who disregard fire safety that they cannot hide behind aliases, false identities and a tissue of lies because we will pursue those who put lives at risk.”