CAMERON HOUSE FIRE WAS CAUSED BY HOT ASH AND EMBERS LEFT IN A CUPBOARD BY NIGHT PORTER

By Bill Heaney

A spectacular fire which raged through Cameron House Hotel and claimed the lives of two men started after a porter put a bag of hot ash and embers in a cupboard containing kindling and newspaper.

Simon Midgley and his partner Richard Dyson died in the fire at the Loch Lomondside resort  in December 2017.

The company which owns Cameron House has pleaded guilty to charges under the Fire Scotland Act of failing to take fire safety measures.

Night porter Christopher O’Malley, who put the bag in the cupboard, admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

O’Malley’s solicitor said the night porter deeply regretted his actions, and that he did not deliberately start the fire.

Dumbarton Sheriff Court also heard that Cameron House did not have proper procedures in place for the disposal of ash, or for training staff.

The owners also failed to keep cupboards that contained potential ignition sources free of combustibles.

About 04:00 on 18 December 2017, O’Malley, 25, cleared ash and embers from a fireplace in the Cameron House reception into a metal bucket.

He then emptied the contents of the bucket into a plastic bag, which he put into the concierge cupboard.

The cupboard also contained flammable materials, including kindling, newspapers and cardboard.

Richard Dyson and Simon Midgley
Richard Dyson, left, and Simon Midgley, right, who both died, had been on a winter break on Loch Lomondside.

At about 06:40 an initial fire alarm sounded and staff noticed smoke coming from the concierge cupboard.

O’Malley opened the door and flames took hold, spreading to the hall.

He tried to fight the blaze, along with the night manager and another member of staff, but they were overcome by the flames.

The night manager sounded the full alarm and called 999. Firefighters arrived within 10 minutes to find a “well developed” fire in the mansion formerly owned by Major Patrick Telfer Smollett and his wife, Gina.

The hotel sits on the lochside at Arden, on extensive grounds contiguous with Duck Bay, near Balloch in West Dunbartonshire.

Previous warnings

More than 200 guests were staying in the hotel at the time, many of them enjoying the Christmas holidays.

The court heard how one family-of-three on the second floor had to be rescued by firefighters while a couple on the first floor had to crawl to safety because corridors and fire escape pathways were filling with smoke and gases.

It was after 08:00 when it was discovered that Mr Dyson, 38, and Mr Midgley, 32, were missing.

Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus found Mr Dyson on a landing at the top of a staircase. Mr Midgley was lying in a fire escape passageway.

Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Mr Dyson was taken to hospital, where he was also pronounced dead.

Post-mortem examinations said the men’s causes of death had been inhalation of smoke and fire gases.

The couple had travelled to Scotland from London, and were staying at the five-star resort as part of a winter break.

Cameron House Hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond, where the fire was
Dumbarton Sheriff Court  heard that Cameron House staff were not properly trained in the safe disposal of ash and that no written procedures were in place.

That was contrary to recommendations made in two fire risk assessments carried out by an independent company in 2016 and 2017.

There was also no procedure in place for emptying the metal ash bins outside the hotel on a regular basis.

And the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had warned Cameron House managers about the risks of storing combustibles in the concierge cupboard in August 2017.

The audit highlighted the potential danger of fire spreading rapidly through the building because of its age and voids.

A follow-up letter was sent to management in November 2017 – one month before the fire – but combustibles continued to be stored in the cupboard.

Details of what happened at Cameron House were first revealed in court on 14 December last year, but reporting restrictions meant they could not be published until now.

Sentencing is due to take place next week.

Detective Inspector Stuart Grainger of Police Scotland said: “We note this conviction, which marks the latest stage in what has been a lengthy and difficult investigation for everyone involved.

“We’d once again like to offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of Simon Midgley and Richard Dyson, who tragically lost their lives on Monday, 18 December, 2017.

“Our officers will continue to provide them with support as this case comes to its conclusion.”

Cameron House Hotel at Duck Bay on Loch Lomondside, which dates back centuries, and was once the home of the Telfer Smolletts.

2 comments

  1. Why has it taken over three years to get to this position? Why all the delay in the Inquiry to?

    Why also is the porter from Renton being fingered as the ‘guilty’ party causing the fire? Why have video excerpts of him putting the embers bag in a cupboard widely released to the popular press?

    The practice of emptying the fire grate of ash and embers and putting them in a pail and and bagging before storing was a practice identified by the fire service to hotel management as being a fire risk.

    So, why all the press release focus on the porter? This was a management failure, a regulatory failure.

    Moreover, the speed of the spread of the fire was quite incredible for a public building. Why did the building regulations permit such tinderbox conditions whereby the fire was fed by the ‘chimney effect’ into the floor and roof space to the extent that the entire building was engulfed in literally twenty minutes?

    Or what of the iced up roads that the hotel and leisure group had not salted? There are reports that the council had to send emergency gritters.

    Big questions, but no public answers. All kept secret under Nicola’s watch. Brush it all under the carpet. Scotland’s own Grenfell with no answers.

  2. This is tragic. The night porter comes from a respected local family and it looks like he has been made to take the public shame for this horrible happening. The faceless directors won’t be personally punished (justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done) and since their names have not been revealed in Secret Scotland (a situation much encouraged by Ms Sturgeon and the SNP) they will not be subjected to public opprobrium. The refuse collection system has been in place for years. The local authority responsible for NOT collecting the ash and embers prior to this fire must have known what was going on there. Had it been Joe Punter who was involved here, those of us who are told their refuse will not be collected and we may face fines, if our bins are full to overflowing and will not close properly, then action would have been taken earlier. So was it West Dunbartonshire Council or Argyll and Bute Council who had the responsibility to empty these bins and to ensure this dangerous practice of storing hot ashes in a cupboard was discontinued? I think the public should be told, but West Dunbartonshire Council won’t comment. They do not believe in freedom of the press. Jonathan McColl and his colleagues will answer only to themselves.

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