TWENTY years have passed, yet I can still smell the smoke, still taste it. 

The aftermath of the blaze that killed students Daniel Heron and James Fraser, both aged just 20, and nearly ended the life of another in their friend Christopher Lewis. 

Their entire lives before them wiped out before they really had a chance to even start. 

I remember clearly the faces of the fire-fighters at the scene in Melrose Street in Glasgow’s Woodlands in 1999.

They were heartbroken that they could do nothing more to save them, as hard as they tried.

Their way to safety blocked by steel bars across the windows, rubble piled up at the door, the smoke alarm disconnected. 

I recall seeing the wretched remains of the home, incinerated, through the broken glass inside. A bike warped and twisted. Furniture reduced to ash. 
Bricks from where firefighters tried to smash their way in littered outside. 

It was a ghastly tomb, and they should never have been allowed to die like that. 

Across the street I recall a woman sobbing, hugging her child close, as if trying to hide her from the horror. Police tape flapping in the wind. 

Fire hoses with nowhere left to go. And the flat landlord Harry Singh, Harpal Singh, or whichever aliases he went by back then, nowhere to be seen.

No shame, no answers as to why they were allowed to rent such a death trap from him. Instead, he ran away, hid from scrutiny, refused to come out and accept any blame over what had happened, of what could have been prevented, like the coward that he was. 

Unlike me, he didn’t look the parents of the fire’s victims in the eyes.

He didn’t see the utter void left in their lives. Never attended the funerals to watch a sea of tears water a garden of flowers. Spoke to their grief-stricken friends. 

Instead, he continued to coin it in with a string of properties that took investigators months to unravel, hiding behind false names and other people. 

Experts, housing charities, campaigners all told me how hard it was to track down where his tentacles reached, as they urgently tried to ensure others were not left at risk.

READ MORE: Death flat landlord fined £270 for trying to collect rent illegally 

Even when we did track him down, drinking and joking in a Glasgow bar, his response was to come out snarling and lunging at my former colleague who confronted him. 

It was small comfort that later he was sentenced to 30 months for lying to the fatal accident inquiry after the fire. He claimed there had been smoke detectors fitted which could have save those young lives, when in fact there were none.

He was banned by the council for life from renting out flats ever again.

As a consequence of their deaths, special laws governing houses of multiple occupation were introduced in 2000. They may very well have helped save many others from risk, from squalor or worse. 

You would have hoped so, at least, when he reapplied to be a landlord again years later. 

Yet even when in 2018 he was exposed for illegally renting out properties from his portfolio, 14 of which failed basic fire protections, he was unrepentant.

Instead, the pain in the statements from the shocked families of those who died laid bare the failings in enforcing justice against this keeper of slums. 

They say never a day goes by when they don’t think of their sons. Of what could have been done to prevent their tragic, their needless, deaths.

How this scumbag has been allowed to continue to profit off people, evade justice and flout a ban is as much of a disgrace in the system, as it is in his utter contempt of the dead. 

READ MORE: Rogue landlord Harpal Singh behind student fire death flat banned from renting out properties 

Many good people spent years building dossiers against him, eventually seeing a ban put in place. 

Too little too late. But applaud them for trying, it had to be done. 

The authorities now must launch further investigations into his business dealings. He may well be pleading poverty in the courts, but do we really believe it?

Do we really think he hasn’t simply found a way around the system through his network to continue doing what he has always done, profiteering at the expense of others?

If anyone else is hurt, or dies, as a result of a property he is involved with then it will be for the authorities to explain why this poor excuse for a human being has been allowed to thumb his nose at them yet again.

Back in court again yesterday, after demanding rent from a tenant despite his ban, makes a mockery of all that he has done before.

A paltry £270 fined for a guilty plea for a minor offence, hardly a move likely to make him change his mercenary ways.

Instead he will go home to his £675,000 home in the city’s Newlands, feign ignorance again, and plead poverty save for his so-called £5000 in savings. The pall of death on Melrose Street cannot be erased even two decades on. 

But it should make us all sick that in the shadow of tragedy, Singh still stalks the same path and stretches out his hand, demanding money from property he is no longer entitled to profit from. 

Yes, I still remember the smell of the smoke from his pit of death, the cries of those grieving the dead, the anger breaking in the voices of our emergency heroes. 

No one else should ever have to.