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.
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.
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.
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.