Homeless risk their lives in derelict Leeds pubs

The George IV, Kirkstall Road, Leeds.
The George IV, Kirkstall Road, Leeds.
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The ailing pub trade is putting firefighters and the homeless in Leeds at risk.

Boozers left to stand empty after going bust are a magnet for arsonists and rough sleepers who then light fires to keep warm.

Three of the 10 empty buildings rated as the most hazardous in Leeds by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service are former pubs.

Ian Bitcon, the service’s area manager for in risk management planning, said: “There are lots and lots of unoccupied pubs in West Yorkshire.

“When a building becomes unoccupied, minor vandalism can start. You end up with a downward spiral and the building falls into disrepair and is insecure and that brings the issue of rough sleepers.”

The fire service started to look into the risks posed to homeless people following the deaths of two rough sleepers in fires in Bradford and Pontefract in 2010.

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It found the problems were linked to disused buildings and drew up the list of the top ten most hazardous properties in Leeds.

Disused schools and office blocks are also on the list. Many of the buildings are in south and east Leeds – along the A64.

Mr Bitcon said fighting fires in buildings occupied by homeless people was more dangerous for crews.

He said: “If you turn out and suspect rough sleepers are in the building, you will deal with that fire in a very different way – and probably put firefighters at greater risk by sending them inside.”

The service is now working with other organisations to secure the worst buildings and to take other steps to keep rough sleepers safe.

Mr Bitcon added: “This is a group who are highly vulnerable. We’re working to identify who and where they are and what are the appropriate interventions.”

Chris Wilson, manager of Homeless charity St George’s Crypt in Leeds, said many of those who slept in the buildings had no way of accessing other services.

“In a lot of cases they are failed asylum seekers or eastern Europeans who we are unable to house. We advise them it’s unsafe to stay in a squat, but if that’s their only option there’s not a lot we can do.”

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