26 August 2022

Fire drills not done at night in hotel where two died in blaze, inquiry told

26 August 2022

An inquiry has been told there appeared to have been a “management failing” at the hotel where two men died in a fire.

Andy Roger, 43, was resort director at the Cameron House hotel, near Balloch, on the shores of Loch Lomond, at the time of the blaze in December 2017.

Simon Midgley, 32, and his partner, Richard Dyson, 38, from London, died.

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, a Fatal Accident Inquiry taking place at Paisley Sheriff Court has heard previously.

The Cameron House hotel was severely damaged by the blaze in which two men died (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

The inquiry has previously been told about the possibility of using an infrared thermometer to detect heat, and how there was no written procedure to empty the open fires after they had been used.

Mark Stewart QC, acting for O’Malley, said the “absence” of a standard operating procedure “left at large staff, who had not been properly trained, to their own devices” in how they cleaned the fireplaces.

Mr Roger told the inquiry: “I would say I don’t disagree with the comment about the document and training, but wouldn’t say they were left to their own devices.”

The QC told Mr Roger: “I’m not trying to lay the blame at you personally but there seems to have been a management failing at some point in the chain that has led to tragedy.”

Simon Midgley, right, and his partner, Richard Dyson, died in the blaze in December 2017 (Family handout/PA) (PA Media)

Barry Smith QC, representing Mr Roger, asked his client: “Were you aware that the night porters were using an eccentric or ad hoc selection of equipment for the purpose of recovering ashes from fires.”

“No”, Mr Roger responded. He added that if he had known concerns raised in 2016 about the creation of a written ash removal procedure, which were signed off as done by a member of staff but not in fact completed by the time a 2017 inspection was carried out, then a process would have been put in place “urgently”.

Mr Roger told the inquiry that the hotel did not do fire drills at night, and when asked by Sheriff Thomas McCartney what time they were held, he said: “We generally took them around 10.30 to 11 in the morning or three or four in the afternoon. Between 10 and four, generally, the hours of the drills.”

Questioned by Crown counsel, Graeme Jessop, about roll-play drills after hours, Mr Roger said: “That was not something we did, in hindsight, that’s something we have done differently, we have done silent drills since we re-opened to capture that.”

Jane Midgley, the mother of victim Simon Midgley, arrives at Paisley Sheriff Court on Friday (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

As part of the evacuation plan, workers were instructed to pick up a bag which included equipment to help with the roll-call of guests. However, on the night, as the intensity of the fire in reception grew, it was left behind.

Mr Roger was asked by the Mr Jessop if there was any back-up.

“A duplicate of equipment? Not that I can recall,” he told the court, before adding many of its systems were cloud-based and could be accessed from a laptop.

On the morning of the fire, Mr Roger told the court, he arrived at the hotel by about 7.15am and spoke to emergency services.

When he got there, guests were at the boathouse, and when Mr Roger was in there, they had started a manual roll-call as they waited for the list, the inquiry was told.

He said at the boathouse there were “people coming in and out” and staff were calling between the two main rooms.

“A small number of rooms after the manual check we hadn’t confirmation on,” he told the inquiry, and added it was discovered the guests in room eight, Mr Dyson and Mr Midgley, were unaccounted for some time after 8am.

The inquiry was also told about the hotel’s fire plan which, under its general section, stated: “Combustible material of any kind must not be stored in general electrical or boiler rooms.”

James Clark, a fire inspector at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, had inspected the property in the summer of 2017 and told management about issues in the concierge cupboard.

In his report in November, he said “combustible storage should not be locked in the cupboard containing mains electrical installation apparatus”.

Subsequently, in an email sent to staff, general manager Craig Paton which said of the cupboard: “Can you make safe and speak to team? Highlighted previously by fire safety inspector and evidently still an issue.”

Alan Grimes, 54, the head concierge at the hotel at the time of the blaze, told the inquiry that newspapers had historically been kept in the cupboard but that stopped after the fire service raised the issue.

He told the inquiry he did not remember the email but would have done as requested.

Hotel operator Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd was previously fined £500,000, with night porter Christopher O’Malley 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 firm 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 company admitted two charges of breaching the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.

O’Malley admitted breaching sections of health and safety laws which relate to the obligation on an employee to take reasonable care for the health and safety of people affected by their acts or omissions at work.

Since the hotel re-opened in September 2021, the inquiry was told, there have been revised fire safety procedures and new fire safety measures including sprinklers and updated alarms.

The inquiry continues.

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