A housing association in Schaerbeek pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter at the Brussels Criminal Court on Tuesday morning after a fire in a building under the management of the association left one woman dead.
On 17 January 2017, a fire broke out in an apartment located on Rue Séverin in Schaerbeek that was under the management of the housing association, the Schaerbeek Foyer, a Brussels public service real estate company that manages more than 2,500 dwellings in the city.
The Foyer is overseen by the Housing Corporation of the Brussels-Capital Region (SLRB).
A woman, the mother of three children who was pregnant with her fourth child, died while attempting to escape from the fire. Her husband and their three children were able to escape the building, although two of the children suffered serious burns.
Although the 2017 investigation into the incident concluded that the fire was accidental, the Schaerbeek Foyer faces charges of manslaughter on the basis that it did not take necessary precautionary action in the old building.
While the investigation revealed that a faulty electrical system was the cause of the fire, the investigation also made it clear that smoke detectors in some apartments of the building had not been replaced for ten years as safety regulations require.
The lawyer of Schaerbeek Foyer’s insurance company, Mr. Vincent Calle, did not dispute that the association had neglected its responsibility to replace the smoke detector in the apartment where the fire took place.
However, Calle argued that there was no connection between this neglected responsibility with the fire and woman’s death.
“It was not the absence of a detector that caused the fire, but the lack of a detector meant that the family lost a chance to avoid the situation,” said Calle.
The Brussels Times