CAMERON HOUSE FIRE: ‘Number of defects’ led to fatal blaze at hotel

Firefighters at the scene
Fire fighters confer after putting out the blaze at Cameron House.

By Bill Heaney

BBC Scotland is reporting that a number of defects in the systems of working at a luxury hotel contributed to a fire which claimed the lives two guests, a fatal accident inquiry has found.

Simon Midgley, 32, and his partner Richard Dyson, 38, died in the blaze at Cameron House on the banks of Loch Lomond in December 2017.

A fatal accident inquiry was held at Paisley Sheriff Court last year to establish if lessons could be learned from the tragedy.

Sheriff Thomas McCartney has now made a series of recommendations.

The fire broke out after night porter Christopher O’Malley left a plastic bag of ash in a concierge’s cupboard at the reception area which contained newspapers and kindling.

In his 122-page findings, Sheriff Thomas McCartney said there were precautions which could realistically have avoided the fire breaking out in the five-star hotel at Duck Bay, Arden, near Balloch.

These were a “clear system of work” for the safe cleaning and removal of ash from the open fires at the hotel, and the installation of a sprinkler system.

Sheriff McCartney also said there were “a number of defects in systems of working which contributed to the accident resulting in the deaths”.

These included:

  • the “careless” disposal of ash in “unsuitable receptacles and areas”
  • the lack of a coherent system to empty ash bins in the service area when they became full
  • the “presence of combustibles” within the concierge cupboard.

A coroner in England previously ruled that Mr Midgley and Mr Dyson, from north London, were and raised concerns that he had not been allowed access to documents and CCTV footage by Scottish authorities.

Scotland’s Crown Office initially said because the circumstances the cause of the fatalities had been established.

Simon Midgely and Richard Dyson
The fire claimed the lives of Simon Midgely (right) and Richard Dyson

But a review overturned the decision after Mr Midgley’s mother Jane, from Leeds, called for wider lessons to be learned. She campaigned hard until she got the result she wanted.

The inquiry into the fire finally got under way at Paisley Sheriff Court last August.

On the opening day the resort’s night manager Darren Robinson told the court he had activated the hotel’s full alarm at about 06:40 on 18 December 2017 after smoke was detected on a fire control panel at reception.

Moments later, night porter O’Malley opened the concierge cupboard, just off of the reception area, and was confronted with flames and smoke.

Flames shooting from the roof of Cameron House Hotel at the height of the blaze.

Mr Robinson, who was also fire warden at the time, said he left the building without the list of guests in the hotel – which he only realised when he was about to start the roll call.

In the that followed more than 200 people were evacuated from the five-star hotel to its nearby Boat House restaurant.

Hotel guests had to be physically stopped from going back into the burning building to help a couple and their baby.

The family were rescued when firefighters arrived and taken to hospital for treatment.

As the flames took hold, Mr Midgely and Mr Dyson tried to use a picture frame to break a laminated double-glazed window.

Both men were found with cuts on their arms, which the court heard was consistent with their failed bid to smash the window.

Mr Dyson was found on a landing at the top of a staircase, while Mr Midgley was discovered lying in a fire escape passageway.

Forensic pathologist Dr Julie McAdam said Mr Midgely, who ran his own PR company, and Mr Dyson, a TV producer, died from inhalation of smoke and fire gases.

Fire investigator Gary Love said more than 75 per cent of the main building of the 128-room hotel was “severely damaged” in the incident.

He concluded that the fire was accidental and was most probably caused by a careless act.

Mr Love said it was “not rare” for people to believe ashes were dead, while they still contained hot or smouldering embers.

Christopher O'Malley
Night porter Christopher O’Malley gave evidence to the inquiry.

The court was also show CCTV footage of the moment the fire was discovered by O’Malley.

During his evidence O’Malley said it did not occur to him that putting a bag of ash in a cupboard could have started a fire.

He said the ash bins outside had been full, which he had reported this to the night manager both on the morning of 18 December 2017 and the previous morning.

He also said that he had received “no training whatsoever” on disposing of ashes.

The court also heard the management at the hotel – which reopened in September 2021 – were told before the fire about the danger of storing combustible materials in certain cupboards.

The FAI heard that in August 2017 James Clark, a fire inspector, had highlighted some concerns about the resort in a routine inspection.

Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd was previously ordered to pay £500,000 after admitting to breaches of fire safety rules.

O’Malley, 35, who admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, was given a community payback order.

MSP Jackie Baillie has welcomed recommendations made following the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the fire.

The Dumbarton constituency representative, pictured right,  urged the Scottish Government to ensure that the actions identified by Sheriff McCartney are implemented urgently in order that this kind of tragedy is not repeated in future.

This comes less than two weeks after a fatal blaze at the New County Hotel in Perth in which three people lost their lives.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service originally ruled out a Fatal Accident Inquiry however this decision was later reversed following a sustained campaign by Simon’s mother, Jane Midgley.

Sheriff McCartney has ruled that the deaths of both men could have been avoided had reasonable precautions around the disposal of hot ash been taken.

The Sheriff includes actions for the Scottish Government to take in respect of fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers, being installed in historic buildings used as hotel accommodation.

And for the government to constitute an expert working group to explore risks relating to voids and wall cavities.

The Sheriff also advises that hotel operators should have robust procedures in place to ensure hot ash from open fires is properly disposed of; that arrangements are in place to account for all persons in the event of evacuation and that all staff, in particular night staff, have experience of evacuation drills.

The MSP said: “I thank the families for their determination and their dignity throughout this whole process.

“It is imperative that these recommendations are put into legislation straight away so that no other families are put through the same torment the relatives of Simon Midgley and Richard Dyson have had to endure.

“The deaths of these two men were avoidable and it should not have taken five years to get this point.

“With the fatal fire at the New County Hotel in Perth having happened less than two weeks ago, that puts into sharp focus how important it is that action is taken on these recommendations urgently.

“Although this will not lessen their heartache and the deep sense of loss they continue to feel, I hope the families affected by the fire at Cameron House can now be reassured that lessons will be learned following this awful tragedy.”

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