Al Fayed’s fire-hit Highland centre pays off staff

Firefighters tackle the blaze at the Falls of Shin Visitor Centre
Firefighters tackle the blaze at the Falls of Shin Visitor Centre
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NEARLY 20 staff employed at Mohammed Al Fayed’s visitor centre in the Scottish Highlands have been made redundant.

The Swiss-based businessman has not yet given the go-ahead to rebuild his “Harrods of the North” after it was destroyed by fire in May.

He had visited what was left of the Falls of Shin visitor centre near Lairg in Sutherland last month.

Mr Al Fayed was said to have been “absolutely devastated” by seeing the ruins.

But now 18 staff - 12 of them full time - have been laid off. The cost of the blaze is said to be “seven figures.”

Mr Al Fayed sold London department store Harrods to the Qatari royal family’s investment company for a reported £1.5bn in 2010 but retained the Falls of Shin centre - known as the Harrods of the North.

Jonathan Henson, who is responsible for the overall management of Mr Al Fayed’s Balnagown Estates, revealed that the preliminary cause of the fire was “an accidental electrical fault.”

The estate had been trying to find temporary premises in the area to continue trading - but without success. An announcement on the long term future will be made in the autumn.

“We have an opportunity now to have almost a clean sheet of paper. We are committed to the area and committed to creating sustainable employment,” said Mr Henson.

“If we are going to make a major investment, then we want to make sure we get it right.”

Mr Henson added that the estate was currently involved in the insurance claim and other administration caused by the fire.

The Falls of Shin centre was vital to the wider economy of the area.

More than 30 firefighters battled in vain on May 20 to save the visitor centre, which consisted of a shop and restaurant housed in a wooden building.

The alarm was raised at 10.16am, with four engines from Golspie, Dornoch, Lairg and Bonar Bridge rushed to the scene in the picturesque Falls of Shin.

They arrived to find a well-developed fire in the ground floor and roof space.

A further appliance from Golspie and the water bowser from Inverness were also mobilised to the incident.

The strong variable winds and the construction of the building caused the fire to spread quickly, and crews were unable to enter the building due to impending danger of the roof which collapsed during the fire.

As well as dealing with the building fire, firefighters worked to stop the fire spreading to the woodlands and outbuildings in close proximity to the centre, which attracted 250,000 visitors a year.

A life size statue of the ex-Harrods boss in a kilt also fell victim to the fire.

The waxwork had been assembled by experts from Madame Tussauds, with Mr Al Fayed - who also owns nearby Balnagowan Estate - saying he could always be there in spirit.