‘I’m not able to smell gas’ – fitter’s alleged admission just before blast

A KITCHEN fitter reportedly claimed he had been doing his job for so long that he could no longer smell gas, minutes before an explosion ripped through a hotel.

The blast, at the Drumtochty Arms Hotel, in Aberdeenshire, left barmaid Danielle Ormond with serious injuries and posttraumatic stress disorder, according to papers lodged at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Ms Ormond, 30, is suing her former employers and a maintenance firm for £200,000. She suffered crush injuries and broken bones in the explosion in January 2009, and is still in pain and needs counselling, her lawyers said.

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The hotel’s owners and the maintenance firm deny responsibility for the explosion.

The accident happened after Ms Ormond went into the basement to change a beer barrel.

Instant Catering Maintenance Ltd was installing a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) tank at the back of the hotel. One of its employees, Neil Coffield, was working in the kitchen area on equipment to run off LPG.

Lawyers for the hotel’s owners, Drumtochty Castle Ltd, stated in the court papers: “About 50 seconds before the explosion, [Mr Coffield] said to [Ms Ormond] about smelling gas that he had ‘been doing this job so long that I can’t smell it 
anymore’.”

The hotel’s lawyers claimed: “He caused a significant leak of gas, which mixed with air and exploded, probably as a result of ignition by an electrical spark.”

They added: “Shortly after the explosion [Mr Coffield] stated… that his manager would ‘go mental’, and when asked why this would be so, explained it was because ‘I lit the cooker’.

“He then twice apologised for what he had done. The hotel consequently had to be demolished.”

Ms Ormond’s lawyers say in the papers she suffered a crush injury to her chest along with numerous broken bones and suffers ongoing pain as well as flashbacks. “She developed post-traumatic stress disorder and has undergone counselling,” they added.

Lawyers for Instant Catering admitted Mr Coffield asked Ms Ormond if she could smell gas, and that she said she could. But they claim the hotel “did not make suitable arrangements for the ventilation of the kitchen”.

The result, they claim, was that “any gas leaking into the kitchen would accumulate at a low level and be at risk of 
ignition”.

In an interview in 2009, Ms Ormond said: “I still feel lucky to be alive. The nightmares don’t help. Sometimes you wake up and you have to, like, realise that you are still alive.

“And sometimes you will wake up in the morning and there is that moment where you feel like you are OK and then your back hurts and you will remember what happened to you. And it’s a constant thing, every single morning. Apart from all the pain and discomfort, I feel I am losing a whole chunk of life because I can’t do a single thing.”

Mr Coffield and another man were hurt in the explosion.

The Crown Office said that an investigation into the blast was ongoing.