Cameron House fire which killed two guests was caused by ash left in cupboard, as owners admit safety breaches

A hotel operator has admitted safety failings over a fatal fire which started after a porter put a bag of ash and embers in a cupboard containing kindling and newspaper.

Couple Simon Midgley, 32, and Richard Dyson, 38, from London, died in the blaze at Cameron House Hotel by Loch Lomond on December 18, 2017.

More than 200 guests were evacuated from the building, including a family of two adults and a child who were rescued by ladder and taken to hospital in Glasgow.

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Dumbarton Sheriff Court heard that the fire started after a porter, Christopher 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. He pleaded guilty to safety violations which led to the death of the two guests.

CCTV from 03:52 to 06:27 Monday 18 December 2017 showing Christopher O’Malley emptying ash into a refuse bag and placing it in the concierge cupboard and the subsequent start of the fire. Courtesy of Crown Office.

Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd admitted that it failed to take the fire safety measures necessary to ensure the safety of employees and guests. It admitted two charges of breaching the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 at Dumbarton Sheriff Court on Friday.

Independent inspections and a Scottish Fire and Rescue service (SFRS) annual audit carried out in 2017 told the hotel not to store kindling and newspapers in the concierge’s cupboard, and a letter was sent to management just weeks before the blaze - but the hotel did nothing.

CCTV

Just before 4am on the morning of the fire, O’Malley emptied ash in a metal bucket – collected from a fireplace in the hotel – into a plastic bag as another porter spoke to him and watched. The bag of ash was then put in the cupboard close to some timber kindling before shutting the door.

An aerial photograph of Cameron House following the fire. Courtesty of Crown Office.

An initial pre-alarm went off shortly before 6:40am and O’Malley is seen on CCTV running about before flames and smoke from the concierge cupboard starts to fill the hallway.

O’Malley opened the door and the flames quickly took hold and spread to the hall.

He tried to fight the fire along with a night manager and another member of staff, but they were overcome by the flames and the hotel alarm was sounded.

When firefighters arrived they found a well developed fire but the manager had not taken the guest register or evacuation bag with him when they left and a firefighter had to retrieve them.

Internal damage to the building. Courtesty of Crown Office.

It was after 8am when it was discovered Mr Dyson and Mr Midgley were missing.

Firefighters found Mr Dyson on a landing at the top of the staircase, and Mr Midgley was lying by a nearby door but pronounced dead at the scene. Mr Dyson was taken to hospital where doctors tried to save him but they were unsuccessful.

The couple were both freelance journalists and had checked into the hotel on Saturday, December 16 and had planned to leave on the Monday.

O’Malley’s lawyer, Mark Stewart QC, said the 35-year-old deeply regretted his actions and did not deliberately start the fire.

Mr Stewart said his client had no experience with open fires and there was no training or safe operating procedures in place, and the task of clearing the fires itself was never risk assessed.

Sheriff William Gallacher described the fire as an “unmitigated tragedy” and expressed his sympathies to the families of the two men who lost their lives. He called for social work reports on O’Malley to be produced ahead of sentencing on January 29.

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