Cameron House inquiry: Night manager tells of ‘horror’ at porter clearing ashes
A night manager told the inquiry into a fatal fire at a luxury hotel in 2017 she was “absolutely horrified” when she saw a porter clearing out the ashes of a log fire using a plastic bin bag.
Giving evidence at the inquiry into the devastating blaze at Cameron House, near Balloch, on the banks of Loch Lomond on December 18 2017, night manager Ann Rundell said she challenged the porter when she saw him clearing out the ashes of a log fire within the reception area a few days earlier.
The fire claimed the lives of Simon Midgley, 32 and his partner, Richard Dyson, 38, from London.
Ms Rundell told Paisley Sheriff Court she challenged night porter Raymond Burns and, when asked what she had said to him, replied: “I said to him, ‘what the f*** do you think you’re doing?’
“I was absolutely horrified.”
But Ms Rundell was later challenged on this account when the court was played CCTV footage of December 15 2017.
The footage showed Mr Burns removing the ashes in a clear bag.
The court was also shown CCTV footage from the hotel on November 29 2017, when Mr Burns was shown clearing the ashes from the fire, again, using a clear plastic bag with water inside.
Ms Rundell appeared to watch him carrying out this task, but did not appear to challenge him on this.
She told the court: “I can assure you that conversation took place.”
During Ms Rundell’s evidence, the court heard how staff received no formal training on clearing the embers from the log fires Cameron House had in their grill, bar and reception area.
Ms Rundell said equipment was not maintained and staff would often have to obtain chafing dishes and ice buckets from other parts of the hotel.
A few weeks before the fire, a metal bucket that had previously been used to clear ashes was missing a handle, which Ms Rundell knew about, but believed it was the responsibility of the day shift to replace.
She was later asked about an instruction not to store flammable materials in the concierge’s cupboard, where items such as newspaper and kindling were kept.
She told the court she did not recall being given the instruction not to store flammable items in the cupboard.
The court also heard how staff were trained by more experienced members of the team.
Night staff working at the hotel did not participate in fire drills regularly.
Ms Rundell said staff were expected to “use common sense” and learned through “word of mouth” what they were expected to do in the event of an emergency.
She was asked if there was ever an attempt to provide the correct equipment to staff members.
“No,” she replied.
The inquiry later heard how a fire risk assessment from 2016 showed there was no written policy in place for disposing of ashes from open fires and grills and stated some staff did not know how to do this.
Fiona Meek, the risk and safety manager for Village Hotels, the group responsible for the Cameron House Resort, said risk assessments would take place once annually and she would provide support to the resort manager to implement health and safety policies.
Fire checks would be done by a third party company and findings forwarded on to hotel management.
Ms Meek told the inquiry she did not check these had been implemented.
In a subsequent risk assessment, the company submitted a report stating recommendations from 2016 had not yet been put in place.
However, the resort manager challenged this and sent an e-mail to Ms Meek, which was seen by the inquiry, stating recommendations had been put in place.
Ms Meek was asked if she had verified whether recommendations had been implemented to which she told the inquiry she had not because the company agreed with the resort manager that a mistake had been made.
She said: “If the response had come back as different, I would have asked further questions.”
Later, Ms Meek was asked about improved safety measures the hotel had put in place since the fatal fire in 2017.
She stated that a new sprinkler system had been put in place as well as enhanced safety training for staff members and management. She could not tell the inquiry what this consisted of.
Prior to the blaze in 2017, Ms Meek visited the site on a quarterly basis, but advised she now visits on a monthly basis.
Hotel operator Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd was previously fined £500,000, and night porter Christopher O’Malley was given a community payback order over the fire.
Dumbarton Sheriff Court heard in January last year that the fire started after O’Malley emptied ash and embers from a fuel fire into a polythene bag, and then put it in a cupboard of kindling and newspapers.
The hotel company admitted failing to take the necessary fire safety measures to ensure the safety of its guests and employees between January 14 2016 and December 18 2017.
The inquiry at Paisley Sheriff Court before Sheriff Thomas McCartney, continues.
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox