Sheriff Thomas McCartney has made six recommendations following a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the deaths of Simon Midgley and Richard John Dyson in the fire at Cameron House Hotel on 18 December 2017.
These include three procedural recommendations for hotel operators in Scotland and a recommendation that the Scottish Government considers a requirement for future hotel conversions in historic buildings to include a fire suppression (that is, sprinkler) system.
Midgley and Dyson were partners who lived in London. The former worked as a freelance travel journalist and it was in the course of his work that he and Dyson were booked to stay at the hotel in Balloch for two nights.
On the morning of 18 December 2017, night porter Christopher O’Malley removed ash from an open fireplace in the hotel restaurant. He placed the ash in a plastic bag and stored it in the concierge cupboard shortly before 4.00am.
Shortly after 6.30am, members of staff were alerted to a fire and noted that smoke was coming from the concierge cupboard. Flames took hold and quickly spread to the hallway.
Hotel guests evacuated the building, but it was not until after 8.00am that Midgley and Dyson were noted as missing. Firefighters carried out a search of the premises and Dyson was found on the second floor showing no signs of life. He was taken to the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Paisley, where he was pronounced dead at 9.35am.
Midgley was discovered unresponsive on the fire escape passageway and pronounced dead by paramedics at 9.13am.
The cause of death for both men was determined to be the inhalation of smoke and fire gases due to the hotel fire.
Sheriff McCartney determined that a reasonable precaution would have been for the hotel to have a clear system of work in place for the safe cleaning and removal of ash from open fireplaces.
A further reasonable precaution would have been for the hotel to have a sprinkler system installed.
The Sheriff found that defects in the systems of working which contributed to the accident included the careless disposal of ash, the lack of standard procedures for dealing with ash, the absence of appropriate equipment, metal bins in the service area being full and unable to hold any more ash and combustible material being stored in the concierge cupboard.
The Fatal Accident Inquiry found that a delay in obtaining a guest list to ascertain who was missing was also relevant to the deaths, as well as an alteration to a previous fire safety report without appropriate checks.
The presence of hidden voids in the hotel, which allowed the rapid spread of smoke, was also noted and so too was how the Building and Fire Safety Standards for hotels applied to older buildings.
Recommendations put forward
The Sheriff recommended that:
All hotel operators should have “up-to-date and robust” procedures in place to deal with ash disposal from fireplaces and to promptly ensure all persons are accounted for in the event of an evacuation. All members of staff, in particular night shift staff, should also have experience of evacuation drills.
The Scottish Government should consider introducing a requirement that any future hotel conversions of historic buildings include an active fire suppression system and that the Government constitutes an expert Working Group to explore the existing fire risks within similar premises.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service should reduce the time periods between fire safety audit inspections and issuing a written outcome report.
Sheriff McCartney added that a victim impact statement from Jane Midgley, the mother of Simon Midgley, informed the Fatal Accident Inquiry of the impact of his death. The determination states: “They were clearly talented young men with a great deal to contribute.
They were committed to each other and to their families. It is not surprising that their passing has had a devastating impact on family and friends.”
The Sheriff concluded by expressing his deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of both victims.
FIA January 2023