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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Co-op fined over safety breaches
A blocked fire exit at a Co-op store in East Sussex
All of the Co-op's stores across East Sussex were inspected
A catalogue of serious safety breaches in a major supermarket chain's stores across East Sussex put shoppers' lives at risk, fire crews have said.

The Co-op Group was fined 250,000 after 38 out of 41 of its stores failed to meet proper safety standards.

The fine was imposed after the firm admitted 13 offences. Costs of 11,176 were awarded to the fire authority.

In a statement the Co-op said it deeply regretted the breaches, and correct safety procedures were now in place.

The breaches came to light in July 2006, when a member of the public alerted East Sussex Fire and Rescue to fire safety issues concerning the Co-op store in London Road, St Leonards.

We can assure our customers that procedures are now in place to avoid any similar breaches of health and safety regulations
Co-op Group

It prompted a full inspection of all of the group's stores across East Sussex where almost all of them were found to have broken fire safety regulations.

Among the breaches uncovered were obstructed or locked fire exits, fire doors wedged open, and a lack of fire alarms in some premises.

Fire service spokesman Richard Fowler said: "You put your trust into the owners of that business... what you don't expect is for a fire to occur and to find yourself trapped in a building, not able to get out of the premises.

"That was the situation we were potentially faced with in these stores."

Previous prosecution

The case against the Co-op, relating to offences at six stores, was heard at Brighton magistrates court on 3 August, with sentencing at Hove Crown Court on 14 September.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue had previously prosecuted the Co-op store in 2006 for breaches in fire safety codes of practice.

In a statement, the Co-op said it took health and safety issues very seriously.

"We can assure our customers that procedures are now in place to avoid any similar breaches of health and safety regulations.

"At the time of these regulation breaches, the group was introducing more stringent health and safety procedures.

"The Co-operative Group deeply regrets the breaches but reiterates the measures now in place ensure the safety of its valued customers and staff."

Co-op Group fined 250,000 for fire safety offences

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