Suspended prison sentence for builder who made fraudulent fire safety claims in Southwark

Wednesday, February 23, 2022 - Southwark Council

Block of flats in Southwark where builder installed non-fire safe windows

Southwark Council have prosecuted Valeriu Sandu, of Valmic Properties Limited, for lying about fitting sufficiently fireproof bedroom windows in a purpose built block of flats. Sandu put quick payment and personal gain, ahead of the safety of people living in the block.

In August 2019, Sandu, 49, of Pretoria Road, Romford, RM7, told Southwark Council officers that three windows, in three separate bedrooms at 45 Penton Place, Walworth, were 90-minute fire rated, when they were not.

On 13 December 2021, Sandhu pleaded guilty to two offences under section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006 at Croydon Magistrates Court. The matter was then adjourned to the Inner London Crown Court for sentencing

On 11 January 2022, Sandu was sentenced at Inner London Crown Court. He received 12 months imprisonment for each offence (to be served at the same time) at the. The sentence was suspended for 15 months after the judge took into account his early guilty plea and personal circumstances. In addition, Her Honour Judge Karu sentenced Sandu to 70 hours unpaid work and costs of £10,000. 

The three bedroom windows were close to smoke vents serving communal areas and escape routes. They would ordinarily need at least 60-minutes fire resistance for council approval, in line with Building Regulations.

Southwark Council’s prosecution concerned two emails that Sandu sent to the council which contained false fire safety claims. 

The first email included a fake manufacturer’s invoice for the fire rated windows. It said they had been supplied, delivered and were 90-minute fire rated. However, during a site inspection a council Building Control officer noticed that the stated 60-minutes fire resistance was questionable, because air vents in the window frames would provide a path for fire and smoke.

When Southwark Council declined to approve the windows on these grounds, Sandu suggested filling in the vent holes with intumescent fire sealant (this expands in heat situations to seal gaps). He went on to say he would contact the manufacturers to see if this would be a suitable option.

This led to the second fraud offence. Sandu forwarded another false email to Southwark Council. This time Sandu said it was from the window manufacturers, confirming that the sealant could be used to resolve the air vent issue.

By this point, council officers were suspicious about the original invoice, as well as the follow up email, so they contacted the alleged window manufacturer. The manufacturer confirmed that both emails were bogus and the matter was referred to the council’s Trading Standards team for investigation.

Councillor Darren Merrill, Southwark Cabinet Member for a Safer, Cleaner Borough, said:

After the Lakanal House tragedy, Southwark vowed to stop at nothing to ensure all council homes are as safe as they can be from fire, and we expect the same standards from builders in the private sector. The horror of Grenfell reminded us once again of the importance of prioritising fire safety. In this context, it is incomprehensible that a builder would fail in his basic duties to keep people safe, and then lie and attempt to deceive the council about the safety of the building.

I hope that our prosecution and court result serve as a stark warning to anyone seeking to put personal gain before the safety of others, by ignoring important fire safety regulations.

I am pleased that thanks to our Building Control and Trading Standards teams, Mr Sandu was punished for his crimes.

Valmic Properties Limited later installed the correct windows.

According to Companies House, Valmic Properties Limited was incorporated in 2009 and has an active proposal to strike off the company (as of 22 February 2022).

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