Couple tried to smash window to escape burning hotel, inquiry told

A blaze at the five-star Cameron House Hotel claimed the lives of Simon Midgley and his partner, Richard Dyson, in December 2017.

16 August 2022

Two men who died after being stuck in a burning hotel had tried to smash a window to escape the inferno, an inquiry has heard.

A blaze at the five-star Cameron House Hotel claimed the lives of Simon Midgley, 32, and his partner, Richard Dyson, 38, from London, in December 2017.

A fatal accident inquiry into the blaze at the hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond, near Balloch, is being held at Paisley Sheriff Court.

Gary Love, a fire investigator, told the inquiry that he found evidence the couple had tried to escape from the blaze.

Cameron House Hotel fire
Emergency services at the scene following the fire at the Cameron House Hotel (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“I noted that a large picture frame was on its side directly below the window of the second floor landing,” the 57-year-old said, describing the area of the hotel where the men’s bodies were found.

He added that the “frame had been prised from the adjacent wall, most likely with the intention to be used to smash the window”.

The now retired investigator for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service told Crown counsel Graeme Jessop that what they had been trying to break through was a laminated double-glazed window, which could not be opened, and had managed to smash only one pane.

Mr Love told the inquiry his investigation found the blaze had started in the concierge cupboard of the Grade B listed building, and inside they found evidence of a galvanised bucket, kindling, and a shovel.

He told the inquiry more than 75% of the main building of the 128-room hotel had been “severely damaged” in the incident, and the fire had caused the majority of the roof to collapse.

Mr Love said his conclusion was the fire was accidental, and was most probably the result of a careless act.

“Ashes have a low thermal conductivity; consequently, it’s not rare for individuals to believe ashes are dead while in reality hot or smouldering embers are still contained within,” he told the inquiry.

Mr Love told Sheriff Thomas McCartney that studies have shown embers causing a fire hours later, and could smoulder for days.

Cameron House Hotel fire inquiry
Cameron House Hotel night manager Darren Robinson arrives at Paisley Sheriff Court for the fatal accident inquiry (Jane Barlow/PA)

Darren Robinson, the hotel’s night manager at the time, was giving evidence to the inquiry earlier on Tuesday and was shown footage of night porter Christopher 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.

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

Mr Robinson was alerted to the pre-alarm and he and O’Malley went to try to find the cause.

Moments later, the inquiry 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 Mr Jessop.

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

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

Mr Robinson then called emergency services.

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.

Mr Stewart 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 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 containing 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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