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Cameron House porter sentenced and hotel fined £500,000 over fatal fire

29 January 2021 by
Cameron House porter sentenced and hotel fined £500,000 over fatal fire

Cameron House porter Christopher O'Malley has been sentenced and the hotel fined £500,000 over a fire which resulted in the death of two guests.

Simon Midgley, 32, and Richard Dyson, 38, from London, died in the blaze at the five-AA-star, 136-bedroom property on the banks of Loch Lomond on 18 December 2017.

O'Malley, 35, admitted breaching Sections 7(A) and 33(1)(A) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Dumbarton Sheriff Court on 14 December. At the same court earlier today [29 January], he was sentenced to a community payback order, supervised for 18 months, comprising 300 hours of unpaid work.

More than 200 guests were evacuated from the building during the fire, including a family of two adults and a child who were rescued by ladder and taken to hospital. They were later discharged.

Dumbarton Sheriff Court previously heard the fire started after O'Malley emptied ash and embers from a fuel fire into a polythene bag and placed it in a cupboard which contained combustibles including kindling and newspapers.

Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond), the owner and operator of the hotel, admitted failing to take the fire safety measures necessary to ensure the safety of employees and guests between 14 January 2016 and 18 December 2017.

The company admitted two charges of breaching the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 on 22 January. It was fined £500,000 today, reduced from £750,000 because of the early guilty plea.

Sentencing O'Malley, Sheriff William Gallacher said: "Your acts on 18 December caused a fire to start in a cupboard in Cameron House hotel. The fire developed from that cupboard and spread to many parts of the building, which had to be evacuated.

"Some guests managed to do that with relative ease, some found it more difficult crawling along corridors to avoid smoke, others had to be rescued by ladder, no doubt some of those who experienced these traumatic events will remember it for a long time to come.

"Two others were unable to escape from the fire and tragically lost their lives."

He said he was imposing work in the community as an alternative to custody.

"That's not an attempt by the court to diminish what happened and the tragic loss of life," he said.

"It's rather in recognition that it was not remotely in your contemplation that anything you did on 17 or 18 December would have led to the catastrophe which in fact ensued."

Sheriff Gallacher said it was "unacceptable" that the hotel operators did not act on previous advice from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to remove combustibles from the cupboard.

However, he added: "I do not consider that the company simply disregarded advice and recommendations but that they were translated or interpreted wrongly or incompletely."

Advocate depute Michael Meehan QC previously described the events on the night of the fire at a hearing on 22 January.

He told the court: "On 18 December, Christopher O'Malley removed ash and ember from the fire, put it in a bucket, emptied it into a plastic bag and put it in the concierge cupboard.

"As a result of the accused's (Cameron House hotel) failure to keep the cupboard free of combustibles, it still contained various combustibles including kindling and newspapers.

"The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service investigation determined that an ember or embers within the ashes ignited and fire spread to the kindling and other combustibles. From there it spread within the main building."

The court heard the hotel operator had been warned of the risks of keeping combustibles in the cupboard following a fire service audit in August 2017, and the general manager had then highlighted the issue to staff.

Cameron House hotel admitted it failed to have in place safe systems of work in respect of the removal and disposal of ash and embers from the hotel's solid fuel fires and maintenance and emptying of metal bins in the rear yard for storing ash and embers.

It also admitted it failed to keep cupboards containing potential ignition sources free of combustibles and failed to ensure employees were provided with the necessary instruction, training and supervision in respect of the safe removal and disposal of ash and embers from the hotel's solid fuel fires.

Peter Gray QC, representing Cameron House, said the failings were not deliberate breaches but occurred "as a result of genuine errors".

He said an absence of formal procedures for dealing with ashes and embers gave staff the opportunity to improvise, and he added the resort extended its "deepest sympathies" to the families of Mr Midgley and Mr Dyson.

Mr Gray said the hotel takes its duties to ensure the safety of its guests extremely seriously.

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