Two guests died during the blaze at the luxury Cameron House hotel near Balloch (Andrew Milligan/PA)
25 August 2022

Cameron House bosses were warned about storing ashes in cupboards, inquiry told

25 August 2022

Bosses at a hotel which would later go up in flames claiming the lives of two men were told by a fire inspector about the danger of storing combustible materials in certain cupboards.

Simon Midgley, 32, and Richard Dyson, 38, died when a fire broke out at the Cameron House hotel, near Balloch, on the banks of Loch Lomond on December 18 2017.

A fatal accident inquiry heard on Thursday that in August that year James Clark, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, had highlighted some concerns to the hotel in a routine inspection.

“Where the integrity of walls or ceilings has been breached to effect repair work or allow services to pass, they should be reinstalled or fire-stopped using materials which provide the original standard of fire resilience. Attention should be given to the concierge cupboard,” his report said.

Simon Midgley, right, and Richard Dyson died during the blaze at the Cameron House hotel (Family handout/PA) (PA Media)

And in the six-point letter sent to the hotel, he said: “All fire doors should have the self-closing devices checked, adjusted/repaired or replaced and thereafter maintained self-closing from all angles of opening, including the fully open position.”

He added: “Combustible storage should not be locked in the cupboard containing mains electrical installation apparatus.”

David McKerry, who was property manager at the time, accompanied Mr Clark on his inspection and told Crown counsel Graeme Jessop that he arranged for the voids to be filled “there and then” by a contractor who was already on site.

The 45-year-old told the inquiry that staff were asked for newspapers to be removed from the room, and when checked on by the end of the day, they had been and had been tidied up.

Night porter Christopher O’Malley has previously admitted breaching health and safety rules (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

Craig Paton, 46, who was general manager at the hotel, told the inquiry he was not aware kindling was stored in the cupboard, and said he understood it to contain just a fuse board and not a mains electrical installation.

In the early hours of December 18, night porter Christopher O’Malley emptied ash and embers from a fuel fire into a plastic bag, and then put it in a cupboard of kindling and newspapers. The hotel then set on fire.

When Mr Paton was called to the hotel after the blaze had broken out, he told the inquiry he remembered seeing “smoke billowing from the hotel” and the “light from the fire lighting up the sky line”.

He said at some point when he arrived he was “made aware there was potentially guests missing” and was later under the impression that a roll call of guests had already been completed.

The inquiry was told on Tuesday that in 2016 Mark Clayton, the director of Veteran Fire Safety, said there should be a written policy in place for clearing ashes from open fires and grills.

Sebastian Pinn, 48, who was the deputy general manager at the hotel until the summer of 2016, told the inquiry he had not prepared the policy for the open fire.

Michael Wisekal, a fire investigator who was tasked by West Dunbartonshire Council to produce a report on the safe handling of ash, told the inquiry a written procedure would have made sure everybody was following the same process.

He told the inquiry of ways someone cleaning a fire could check if the ashes were hot, which included moving the ash around with a metal shovel in the fire or using an infrared thermometer.

Mark Stewart QC, acting for O’Malley, asked if a temperature probe used for something like measuring how warm a joint of beef was would tell someone if the ashes were still hot. “I imagine it would,” Mr Wisekal told him.

Hotel operator Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd was previously fined £500,000 over the fire, and night porter Christopher O’Malley, who admitted breaching health and safety laws, was given a community payback order.

The inquiry at Paisley Sheriff Court, before Sheriff Thomas McCartney, continues.

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