THE boss of three popular night spots in York city centre and his company face a £173,000 court bill for fire safety lapses that risked hundreds of lives.

Aaron Matthew Mellor's Toft Green nightclub Tokyo had faulty smoke detectors, fire alarms and emergency lighting, crates of bottles blocking an emergency exit and fire doors that didn't work properly, York Crown Court heard. The premises also had furniture with torn covers that could have ignited and wooden panels along escape routes as well as an occupied bed-sit with a blocked exit and other fire safety issues.

The offences relate to February 2013 when the nightclub had a capacity of 850 people.

It changed its name to Fibbers when the music venue moved out of Stonebow into the premises in July 2014. Through Tokyo Industries which he founded in 1997, Mellor is in charge of Fibbers as well as neighbouring Black Orchid lap dancing and strip club and Stein Bier Keller Bavarian beer cellar.

Jonathan Goulding, prosecuting, said the danger was so great, fire inspectors would have closed the premises down immediately under a prohibition order, but Mellor agreed to close it voluntarily for a few days.

Mr Goulding said: “Mr Mellor was responsible for the safety of everyone at the premises and put visitors and staff at risk of death or serious injury."

The Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst, said: "Those likely to have been most affected would have been a large number of largely young people, many of whom would be vulnerable in the sense of having their judgement and faculties affected by alcohol".

York Crown Court heard that fire inspectors found the problems after they were contacted by a member of the public concerned that the club's smoking area was next to a diesel generator. It was used to supply electricity privately because the club was in dispute with the public electric supply company.

York Crown Court heard that in Lincoln, police and fire officers found a similar catalogue of fire hazards at Mellor's premises in Silver Street on April 1, 2013. They were so serious that one night the emergency services stayed on the premises until after it closed to ensure every customer got out safely. At the time it housed The Basement club and had a total capacity of 600.

North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Services combined forces to prosecute Mellor, 45, of Deansgate, Manchester, who pleaded guilty to one offence of failure to obey an enforcement notice ordering him to improve fire safety at Tokyo, York. He denied 11 similar offences in Lincoln, but was convicted at a trial before a district judge.

Tokyo Industries (One) Ltd, of which he is currently the sole director, admitted three offences relating to Tokyo York.

Mellor was fined a total of £76,000 and ordered to pay £67,450 prosecution costs. Tokyo Industries (One) Ltd was fined £30,000.

The judge said he was satisfied that Mellor had made "significant" efforts to improve fire safety at the two venues and others that he controls.

He read out a comment made by Mellor to fire inspectors: "This has been a categorical disaster. I am not proud about any of the circumstances at all. I have learnt from this. I have learnt a hell of a lot from this." He had also said he would never knowingly or willingly put people's lives at risk.

York Crown Court heard that Mellor operated 24 venues across the UK but had no convictions for fire safety offences. His lawyers handed in testimonials which the judge said showed he was "well regarded and set high standards in the entertainment industry".

Mr Goulding said of the York nightclub offences “A fire safety assessment is regarded by fire safety experts as the most important element in fire safety management but it appeared the one they found referred to another nightclub used by Mr Mellor.

“One described an exit onto Princess Street but there was no such exit."

Mellor said after the court case: “These incidents relate to occurrences in early 2013. We totally accept that the findings of that night where unacceptable and local management failed to address key issues. Guest and staff safety is something we have always held in high regard.

"Following this incident, our systems have been further strengthened to ensure failures of this type are unable to be repeated. Both sites ceased trading in May 2013 and have since been re-let following full refurbishments with over £1m being invested. All venues have been subjected to increased scrutiny from internal compliance teams and fire services nationally, with all venues out performing beyond expected standards."