Woman admits smoke alarm failure after fatal house fire

Cheryl Goodenough |

Five young boys and their father died in the blaze.
Five young boys and their father died in the blaze.

A fine of $667.25 seems a “pittance” after a house fire killed a father and five children.

But it was the maximum penalty a magistrate could impose on Donna Rose Beadel for failing to install compliant smoke alarms.

A Moreton Bay community near Brisbane was in shock after 34-year-old Wayne Godinet and his five boys died when Beadel’s Russell Island home burned down in August 2023.

The children included four-year-old twins, with the other boys aged 11, 10 and three.

Their mother Samantha Stephenson and another woman survived after fleeing as the early morning blaze tore through the two-storey Todman Street property.

The fire also destroyed two neighbouring homes and left several people needing treatment for minor burns and smoke inhalation.

Property owner Beadel, 61, had not fitted compliant smoke detectors in the house.

Beadel, from Tweed Heads, in NSW, was not present when the deadly blaze occurred or when she was sentenced in Cleveland Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

The fatal house fire in Russell Island (file image)
Two women managed to escape the inferno at the two-storey house. (HANDOUT/SUPPLIED)

Magistrate Deborah Vasta read Beadel’s guilty plea – which had been submitted in writing – to one count of owner failed to comply with smoke alarm installation.

The house, believed to be more than 100 years old, had been relocated from Hendra, in Brisbane, about 12 months after Beadel bought the island block in about 2011, the court heard.

She had engaged an electrician to do work, including fitting smoke alarms, that was required at the time.

Beadel used the house for holidays, intending to move there later, and was unable to inspect the property in 2021 due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She returned in April 2022 after her partner lost everything in floods. 

Beadel rented the house with a verbal-only lease for $370 per week after cleaning it and checking smoke alarms were working.

However, Beadel told the court she was not aware of 2022 state legislation regarding smoke alarms.

The law change requires all Queensland rental properties to be fitted with functioning smoke alarms on each storey, including each bedroom and in hallways that connect them.

Smoke alarms must also be interconnected in a dwelling so they all activate together.

Ms Vasta handed down the maximum fine of $667.25 for failing to comply with the legislation.

“It seems a pittance, however it’s not me to comment on the laws,” she said.

She took into account that Beadel pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, seemed remorseful and had no criminal history.

“It’s absolutely no excuse that she failed to keep abreast of the laws required of an investment property owner in having the premises legally wired with smoke detectors after January 2022,” Ms Vasta said.

A smoke alarm (file image)
The house did not have a legally required smoke alarm system. (Paul Miller/AAP PHOTOS)

No conviction was recorded.

The deaths are before the coroner.

Ms Vasta said there was no evidence before her about whether the smoke alarms were working or if the outcome would have been different if the house had been legally wired.

“I am simply sentencing a home owner for not complying with the current legislation – I’m not imposing a sentence that’s been defined by the tragic outcome of her actions.”

The magistrate said she hoped court proceedings would not be reduced to inflammatory social comment with people saying the fine was how much an individual soul was worth.

“That reasoning is just infantile and it’s dumb and it only serves to fan the flames of outrage and indignation that may be surrounding these very tragic circumstances.”