Special: Furniture Inferno Fake Britain

Special: Furniture Inferno

Matt Allwright presents a special investigation into the illegal and potentially lethal sofas and mattresses being sold by some of the UK's best-known retailers.

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At this time of year, furniture retailers are doing big business.


They're selling us sofas at massive discounts and mattresses at


bargain-basement prices. There's one place with a double discount sale,


SCS. A Harveys sale ad... Homebase, make a house a home. Finding the


perfect gift has never been easier, we believe there's a better what I


to shop online. But Fake Britain can reveal that SCS, Harveys, Argos,


Homebase, Tesco direct and Amazon have been selling illegal, unsafe


and potentially lethal furniture. This noncompliant furniture risks


the lives of people in their homes. It's very, very dangerous indeed.


Alarmingly, there are sofas and mattresses on sale throughout the


country that could cause an inferno in your home in fewer than ten


minutes. There are products out there which really are a death trap.


Clearly, that has to be a worry. Many of the dangerous mattresses


carry false fire resistant labels. This label confirms with the British


standard. This label is fake. So why haven't any of Britain's biggest


furniture retailers noticed? Our investigation began when we met


Maria Houston, who purchased two dream sofas from an independent


retailer in Bradford. These two couches were absolutely stunning. I


just couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the price as well. But when the


sofas arrived, Maria was unhappy with the quality and the service


she'd received. So she contacted Trading Standards. Officers in West


Yorkshire began examining the type of sofa she had bought. They had no


idea just what they were about to find out. We decided that we had


real concerns about the safety, so we visited the premises and seized a


sofa. We submitted it to our testing surface here who carried out the


testing on the furniture. To see if sofa foam complies with the UK fire


safety regulations, the law says it must be tested like this, a small


wooden crib is ignited and if the sofa is safe, it shouldn't catch


fire. When Trading Standards tested the


sofa they'd seized, they made a shocking discovery. It failed the


test. Not a little bit, but very badly. What you can see is that


having lit the crib, it's already flaming away. What should happen is


that the crib should go out. This is untreated foam, so it's away. After


just two minutes, the fire has escalated dramatically. That would


be out of control in a house. We have no idea just how many unsafe


sofas like these are in West Yorkshire and beyond right now


putting consumers' lives at risk. They have what the test house


described as accelerating ignition, which to you or me is a fire ball,


had it been in a house, near some curtains, it would have been a


massive ignition source and would have burned the house down. Maria's


sofas have never been tested. She's worried they may be unsafe. We


showed her the test footage. That's unbelievable. God. If my grand kids


were here and we had a fire, you'd think the worst, wouldn't you? I'm


gutted. The consequences could be real danger for anybody, not just me


and my grand kids or my niece and nephews, anybody. The independent


retailer she bought them from had five shops in Yorkshire. They were


successfully prosecuted and fined. Both Maria's sofas and both


purchased by Trading Standards carried fire resistance labels


claiming they met UK regulations. Fake Britain tried to contact


I-Sleep Ltd for their comments. The stores remain closed and since


January 8, the company is no longer in business. Could what happened in


Yorkshire be happening elsewhere? Fake Britain has decided to find


out. We joined Trading Standards in Leicester as they went to buy ten


sofas at random from a wide selection of the best known High


Street retailers and independent stores. They wanted to purchase a


range of sofas for fire safety testing. Their plan was to discover


whether or not they were safe. First on the list is Harveys. This is one


of the UK's largest furniture retailers, with 150 stores


nationwide. A Trading Standards officer buys a sofa available for


collection straight away and it's taken away to their storage unit,


before being sented for testing -- sent for testing. Next is SCS, or


sofa carpet specialist, who have nearly 100 stores nationwide.


Trading Standards pick a sofa, buy it and take it away. We wanted to


check a range of different sized retailers. They will be tested under


the correct standards to make sure that they are compliant with the


safety regulations in regards to fire ignition tests. It should be


inconceivable that any of these sofas could fail the legal tests,


because in the 70s and 80s, after a series of deadly fires, new laws


were passed to help protect us from dangerous furniture. In May 1979, a


fire broke out at wool worths in the centre of Manchester. Fire crew as


rived to find smoke -- -- crews arrived to find smoke billowing from


the six-storey building. Bob Graham was one of the senior fire officers


who responded on the day. What first struck me on arrival was the


intensity of the fire and the amount of smoke that was coming out of the


building. It was tremendous. There were approximately 500 people in the


building at the time the fire started. So you can imagine the


confusion. The situation turned to horror, as people were trapped


behind bars in an office at the rear of the building. They were trapped.


The fire was spreading across the floor. They couldn't open the door


onto the remainder of the fire floor because they would have been killed


instantly, with the heat that was in there.


The urgent thing there was to get the bars off the window and get the


people out. The crews did that very efficiently. The firemen went inside


to reassure the people that they were going to be safe and gradually,


they were brought down to the ground. Elsewhere in the building,


ten people lost their lives and 47 were injured. The Coroner at the


inquest said anyone who was on the second floor, three minutes after


the fire started, was unlikely to escape. That's how fast the fire


grew. Bob Graham, a key investigator, soon discovered that


furniture was at the heart of the disaster. He became a leading figure


in the campaign for tougher fire safety regulations and was awarded


an MBE for his work. We reconstructed what was in wool


worths -- Woolworth's, set fire to it and monitored the effects. That


showed us that the furniture was the main contributor to this fire. The


Woolworth's fire took ten lives. There were another 700 at that time


dieing in their own homes throughout the UK. Campaigners persuaded the


Government to change the law and now manufacturers are obliged to make


furniture using fire resistant foam and materials in order to protect


the consumer. Chief Fire Officer, Paul Fuller, from Bedfordshire Fire


Rescue Service is president of the Chief Fire Officers Association and


an expert in fire prevention. In 35 years in the Fire Service, I've seen


the devastation caused by fires of all sorts and it is never a good


thing. It is worsened, if the materials that are inside rooms burn


more readily, such as noncompliant furniture. Paul knows just how


dangerous a fire involving this furniture can be. The catastrophic


effects are demonstrated by this living room fire test, carried out


before the regulations came into force.


Very, very quickly, the room in which that furniture is involved


will become completely uninhabitable. You can't breathe.


You can't see. It's too hot. You can't find your way around. And


you're choking to death. Noncompliant furniture risks the


lives of people in their homes. It's very, very dangerous indeed. The ten


sofas purchased by Leicestershire Trading Standards have arrived at


the West Yorkshire materials testing lab, which is fully accredited to


carry out the legal tests. Samples of the foam fillings and cover


fabrics from the sofas, including those from SCS and Harveys, are


being prepared for testing. Each separate cover fabric has to pass


what's called a match test. We apply a butane flame, at a specified gas


flow rate for 20 seconds. Then it's removed. Within two minutes of its


removal, flaming has to cease and there is to be no progressive


smouldering. All the cover fabrics from the same SCS sofa are being


tested. They must all pass the flapability tests for -- flammility


tests for the sofa. This is the trim. The first application of the


fame doesn't ignite the fabric. This may be because there is some fire


retardant treatment. The regulations require a second attempt. And this


time, it ignites. After one minute and 40 seconds, it's reached an


unsafe level and has to be skinning wished. The second fabric, another


trim from the arms of the SCS sofa, passes the 20-second match test.


This is still not good news for SCS. Even if all the other components


pass, there is a failure, because all parts must meet requirements.


The main cover fabric is the final element to be tested. It ignites


easily. The fire takes hold. Then at one minute and 40 seconds, it has to


be extinguished. This sofa is illegal. You've just seen a sofa


from a leading retailer fail. We showed the footage to fire expert


Paul Fuller. The rapidity with which that furniture has caught fire is


staggering. If you can imagine that over four or five minutes it's


shocking. Two out of the three fabrics have failed. This means the


sofa, from High Street retailer SCS, is illegal and dangerous. SCS told


us the issue here was a failing by the company who apply the fire


retardant material to the product. And this is something that must be


addressed. The model Trading Standards tested was part of a small


batch of 41. Should further testing of the batch in question give us any


concerns we will recall that batch of products and will be contacting


customers directly. They also said: Regular, independent testing is


undertaken and all of the certificates we have for that model


demonstrate that it meets the required standards. We ensure that


we obtain independent fire certificates for all of our


upholstery products. We will be implementing our own independent


testing routines. Next, the sofa from Harveys. The


faux leather trim fabric has passed the test. The main cream coloured


fabric is the second and final test. The 20-second flame is applied. The


fabric ignites and the fire quickly escalates. Already the build up of


gases you can see in that room are going to make it very, very


difficult environment indeed. That's new furniture. It's brand new and


doesn't comply. With those vital life-saving regulations.


Astonishingly another sofa has failed. Harveys had this to say:


"Harveys takes the safety of its products very seriously and have


procedures in place to ensure its products meet all relevant safety


standards. This matter is being investigated and we are unable to


comment any further until we've concluded this.


Fake Britain can reveal of the ten sofas purchased at random in


Leicestershire, eight had failed and do not meet the required UK


flammablity standards. So, alarmingly, ape number of leading


retailers -- a number of leading retailers are selling sofas that


don't comply with you're fire safety regulations. But it doesn't end


there. It's not just sofas. Fake Britain has discovered


dangerous, noncompliant memory foam mattresses which carry fake fire


resistance labels and they're being sold in our high streets and online.


Here in Lancashire, bed ministerer Silent Night have their own in-house


test lab and carry out regular fire testing of all products they sell.


They're going to demonstrate the importance of a safe mattress. There


are products out there which really are a death trap in the consumer's


home and clearly that has to be a concern, has to be a worry. That


kind of product, we've got to stamp out of this market. Today we've


joined them at Lancashire Fire Rescue Service to see how a safe and


legal mattress should behave in the event of a fire, using one of their


products as a demonstration. To simulate what would happen in the


event of a house fire, the test has been set up like a real bedroom. We


are going to use a wooden crib as the ignition source, which we will


place on the centre of the mattress and set fire to it.


The ignited crib burns steadily. Despite falling over, the foam


filling of the mattress is not catching fire. And after two minutes


and 43 seconds, the fire dies out. The wooden crib took two to three


minutes to burn out, that's a compliant mattress. They then


produced a second mattress from a xeter that they -- competitor that


they suspect to be illegal. If the mattress fails the test, it's an


illegal product on sale in the UK. But the label states that it is


legal. The crib on the safe mattress burned


out at two minutes and 43 seconds. But after the same period of time,


fire has taken hold of the suspect mattress.


After nearly six minutes, the mattress fire has filled the room


with toxic smoke. More than half of all house fire fatalities are caused


by smoke inhalation. Less than a minute later, the room has been


engulfed by flames. The window explodes. The carpet, the curtains


and the bed have been destroyed. The fire has reached approximately 1,000


degrees. At nearly 11 minutes, it's an inferno. The small camera that


we've been using to record a closer shot is too close to the fire. A


fire officer recommends rescuing it from the heat of the blaze. And then


a Fire Rescue Service officer steps in to distinguish the fire


ball, as it's simply too dangerous to continue.


Clearly in that situation, if there had been people in that property,


then very clearly there would have been strong risk of fatalities. It


would be so hot and so full of smoke and gas that it would be


unsurvivable. In only about six minutes, it would be a terrifying


place to be trapp in those probably last few minutes of survival.


Shocking stuff. And it's unbelievable to think that despite


the tough regulations that we have here in the UK, this was a product


widely available for sale. To investigate further, Fake Britain


went shopping. We decided to conduct our own tests by buying a series of


rolled memory foam mattresses by Ventura, sold under the brand name


Sleep Secrets from sleeping online and High Street retailers. We bought


samples of the sleep secrets, cool gel and Napoli memory foam


mattresses from Argos, Homebase, itesquo direct and Amazon -- Tesco


direct and Amazon website. Prices ranged from ?140 to ?300. We took


our mattresses to the Fira, the test lab in Hertfordshire. It's one of


the UK's leading testing centres. They're able to test whether the


mattresses are up to standard. Today, one of their experts is about


to discover whether some of Britain's leading retailers have


been selling illegal mattresses. The Sleep secrets comfort cool gel


memory foam mattress from the Argos website is ignited. The foam ignites


and burns steadily. Very quickly it represents a serious risk. After two


minutes and 39 seconds, Steve switches on the fire distinguisher.


-- extinguisher. The mattress has failed. This means Argos has sold an


illegal product in the UK which is potentially lethal. Because the foam


has failed, it's not legal to be sold as any part of furniture,


whether it's a chair or a mattress. The foam is actually illegal for


furniture use in the UK. Next it's the Sleep Secrets cool gel memory


foam single mattress from Homebase. The crib test is ready to go. The


mattress foam Iing noits. -- ignites. It's not long until it's


reached the limit and the blaze is put outment -- out. This mattress


has also failed the test. As a result, Homebase has sold an ellegal


product. -- illegal product. If it was to catch fire, due to the rate


the flames would develop and spread and the amount of smoke, it would


make it very difficult for anybody to escape. Home Retail Group, who


own Argos and Homebase, had this to say about the results of our tests:


"At Argos and Homebase our priority is our customers. We are very sorry


for any concern this issue may cause. Along with other retailers,


we've initiated an immediate product recall of the affected batches by


Ventura, who will be writing to all affected customers to arrange


collection of their mattress and we will offer a full refund or


compliant replacement. We've also removed all affected mattresses from


sale with immediate effect. We operate strict terms and conditions


with suppliers, which state that all goods supplied to us must be legal


and conform to the relevant legislation. We are deeply


disappointed and concerned about this clear failure by Ventura and


are taking urgent action at the highest levels."


Next to be tested is a Sleep Secrets 15 cms Celsius cool gel memory foam


mattress that we bought from Tesco direct. The crib is ignited again.


And yet again, our test shows strieghtening quick ack --


frighteningly quick acceleration of the fire. The mattress has failed.


Tesco direct has sold an illegal product. They told us: "We have very


high standards for the items we sell and are urgently investigating with


the brand supplier. We have only sold one of these items and have


suspended the product from sale. We will be taking action with the


supplier once our investigations are completed. "


Next up, it's a Sleep Secrets 18 cms Napoli mattress purchased from


Amazon. This is the fourth and final mattress that we have tested. This


mattress also fails. Shockingly, Argos, Homebase, Tesco direct and


Amazon have all sold an illegal product throughout the whole of the


UK. Amazon told Fake Britain: "At Amazon we're committed to providing


customers with the best possible shopping experience and have an


established process in place which enables third parties, including


rights holders, to provide us with notice of infringements or


noncompliant product. We respond rapidly to any such notice,


including removal of any such items." All four Sleep Secrets


memory foam mattresses have failed the UK legal tests. We sent our test


results to the UK supplier, Ventura Corporation and they told us:


"Ventura Corporation is a responsible and ethical business and


has been trading for nearly 30 years. We have an unblemished record


of trading with many of the largest retailers in the UK. We have been


made aware by the programme makers that there is an issue with a


limited number of Sleep Secrets branded mattresses which originate


from a single, previously reliable supplier. We are conducted a


vigorous investigation. We will conduct further testing and will be


in contact with all customers who we can ascertain are in possession of


any mattresses which may be affected. We will seek to offer


affected customers a satisfactory resolution. "


It's clear, the bed industry could be facing a big problem. We spoke to


Jessica Alexander from the national bed federation to find out more. In


the last few years, because of the recession, we've seen more


manufacturers perhaps try and cut corners in order to reduce their


prices. Therefore we do feel that it has become more of an issue for


consumers to be taken in by products which aren't quite what they say


they are. All of the Sleep Secrets mattresses we bought are made in


China. We all carried fire resistance labels. To check out the


authenticity of the label, we took them to the British standards


institute. This label conforms with the British standard. This label is


fake. Anybody who knows anything about the labels should have noticed


there was a problem. We look at these two labels, if we measure this


one, it should be at least 50 millimetres by 50 millimetres. A


white background with a blue border around it and it should have the


word "resistant" across the blue boreder in white lettering, which


should be at least five millimetres in size. Any writings and die grams


on the label should appear in the white box and should all be black.


This one is considerably smaller. It's less than 50 millimetres by 50


millimetres. The blue pictures are wrong. The size is wrong. And the


use of this number is wrong. Yet, it seems that no-one at Argos,


Homebase, Tesco Direct or Amazon noticed. The label could deceive


British consumers into buying an unsafe mattress. Why hasn't the


retailer or the supplier noticed that these labels are fake? After


all, the retailer has a legal responsibility to make sure that


everything they sell complies with the law. We asked the retailers and


suppliers to comment. Tesco told us, "We're sorry that the product was


incorrectly labelled and did not meet the requirements of the


regulations." Home Retail Group for oar gas and Homebase told us, "On


learning of these claims, Argos and Homebase immediately launched an


urgent, top-level investigation with Ventura, in which independent tests


confirmed that the Sleep Secrets mattresses did not confirm to BS


7177. The tests revealed that the mattress labels were genuine having


been applied by the supplier during manufacturing. But the label


information did not comply with the mattresses sold. Amazon did not


respond on this point. Ventura corporation, the supplier,


told us: "We're investigating an issue concerning the accuracy of


information shown on the mattress labels. We have never been advised


by any independent testers that the labels are incorrect, but we're now


working, according to the flammablity standard with


independent test laboratories to ensure the future accuracy of


labelling. The labels are not fake. It's the manufacturer who is


responsible for testing the products, but the retailer is


obliged to check that furniture that they sell is safe. The question


should be asked of that retailer, are they being diligent enough in


terms of vetting their supplier base to ensure they are conforming


totally with the legal requirements of products they sell to the


consumer. At the end of the day, the buck would stop with that retailer.


The fact that SCS, Harveys, Argos, Homebase, Tesco Direct and Amazon


have been selling illegal furniture in the UK shocks a leading


campaigner in fire safety, who thought this problem had been solved


over 25 years ago. To find that people are selling hazardous


furniture to the general public, particularly when they have a


reputation, I mean, that's reprehensible. No-one knows just how


many dangerous sofas and mattresses there are on sale and in UK homes


right now. The whole purpose of the regulations


were to drive down the risk of fires killing people in their homes. To go


back to that, would be completely heinous. We have to do everything we


can to ensure that we don't. You have concerns about products shown


in this programme, contact your retailer. Homebase and Argos have


told us you can call: contact your local Trading Standards


as well.


Matt Allwright presents a special investigation revealing that sofas and mattresses being sold by some of the UK's best-known retailers are illegal and potentially lethal.

The UK has some of the toughest fire regulations for furniture in the world and consumers expect that furniture they buy will be safe. But Fake Britain discovers that some furniture dramatically fails crucial fire safety checks and some items are even being sold with fake fire safety labels.