Cameron House Hotel inquiry shown video of how deadly blaze was discovered

A fatal accident inquiry at Paisley Sheriff Court is looking into the fire in which two men died.

16 August 2022

Security camera footage of the moment a fire which would go on to claim the lives of two men was discovered has been played to an inquiry.

Simon Midgley, 32, and his partner Richard Dyson, 38, from London, died following the blaze at the five-star Cameron House Hotel near Balloch on the banks of Loch Lomond, in December 2017.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry into the deaths is being held at Paisley Sheriff Court.

On Tuesday, the inquiry was shown security camera footage of the moment night porter Christopher O’Malley opened the concierge cupboard in the morning of December 18 that year to discover flames and smoke spewing out of the small room just off the reception area.

Cameron House Hotel fire inquiry
Simon Midgley, right, and Richard Dyson died in the blaze (Family handout/PA)

Darren Robinson, the hotel’s night manager at the time, was giving evidence to the court and was shown footage of O’Malley filling a black plastic bag with ashes and putting it into the cupboard, which also stored kindling for the nearby fire.

In one part of the footage, O’Malley put the ashes in as he was talking to another hotel employee.

Mr Robinson said: “It’s not something I would have done” , and added it was a “fire risk”.

“There could be hot embers in the ash,” he said, and told the inquiry that at the time there were “flammable materials” in the cupboard.

Cameron House Hotel fire inquiry
The blaze caused severe damage at the Cameron House Hotel (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He did not know they had been put there until he saw video footage, the inquiry was told.

At about 6.30am on December 18, Mr Robinson was alerted to the pre-alarm and he and O’Malley went to try find the cause.

Moments later, the FAI was shown, O’Malley opened the door to the cupboard he had previously placed the ashes in where he and a member of the public found the source of the fire.

Smoke soon began to fill the room, and Mr Robinson put down his fire marshal pack and list of guests, and picked up a fire extinguisher.

But at this point, Mr Robinson told the court, he felt there “was no point”.

“It was too big and it was more important to get people out,” he told Graeme Jessop, acting for the Crown.

The member of the public can then be seen trying to fight the fire with an extinguisher, but to no avail.

“I was trying to phone the emergency services at that point,” he said.

Mr Jessop asked him if there was a problem contacting emergency services.

“There was no problem. It started ringing, I think, and within the next few seconds things escalated quite quickly – lights went off, (the) place starts to fill up with smoke – and I didn’t think it was safe to be in there anymore,” he said.

Seconds later, at 6.41am, he dialled 999 from his mobile phone, a call which was played to the inquiry on Monday.

Mark Stewart QC, acting for O’Malley, told the court his client was a “conscientious” and “diligent employee”.

“When that alarm went off you asked Mr O’Malley to go and investigate. That’s what we saw happening on the video as he rushed out in the reception area slightly ahead of you,” he said.

When smoke was detected, staff had three minutes to work out the cause, and the inquiry was told O’Malley’s actions were “instrumental” in making the decision for Mr Robinson to trigger the full alarm.

He said there had been nothing to test the temperature of the ash to make sure it was cool enough, and the metal bucket used was bought from B&Q just before the blaze.

And, the inquiry heard, O’Malley had told Mr Robinson that the ash bins were full and that the night manager had emailed other staff at the hotel requesting that the bins be emptied.

Hotel operator Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd was previously fined £500,000, and night porter Christopher O’Malley was 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 inquiry continues.

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