Cameron House investigation: ‘Horror’ over hotel ashes trash bag
A night manager told the inquest into a fatal fire at a luxury hotel in 2017 that she was ‘absolutely horrified’ when she saw a porter clear the ashes from a log fire using a plastic garbage bag.
Giving evidence at the inquest into the devastating fire at Cameron House, near Balloch, on the shores of Loch Lomond on December 18, 2017, night manager Ann Rundell said she defied the doorman when she had seen cleaning the ashes from a log fire in the reception a few days earlier.
The fire claimed the lives of Simon Midgley, 32, and his partner, Richard Dyson, 38, of London.
Ms Rundell told Paisley Sheriff Court that she challenged night porter Raymond Burns and, when asked what she told him, replied: ‘I said to him, ‘What is it? what do you think you are doing?
“I was absolutely horrified.”
But Ms Rundell was later challenged on that account when the court viewed CCTV footage from December 15, 2017.
Footage showed Mr Burns removing the ashes into a clear bag.
The court also saw CCTV footage from the hotel on November 29, 2017, when Mr Burns was shown removing the ashes from the fire, again using a clear plastic bag with the water inside.
Mrs. Rundell seemed to watch him perform this task, but did not appear to challenge him about it.
She told the court: “I can assure you the conversation took place.”
During Ms Rundell’s testimony, the court heard that staff had received no formal training in clearing embers from the log fires Cameron House had in its grill, bar and reception area.
Ms Rundell said the equipment was not maintained and staff often had to obtain stoves and ice buckets from other parts of the hotel.
A few weeks before the fire, a metal bucket that had previously been used to clean up the ashes was missing a handle, which Ms Rundell knew but believed it was the responsibility of the day shift to replace it.
She was then questioned about an instruction not to store flammable materials in the janitor’s closet, where items such as newspapers and kindling were kept.
She told the court that she did not recall being instructed not to store flammable items in the closet.
The court also learned how staff were trained by more experienced members of the team.
Night staff working at the hotel did not participate in fire drills regularly.
Ms Rundell said staff needed to ‘use common sense’ and learn by ‘word of mouth’ what they were supposed to do in an emergency.
He was asked if there had ever been an attempt to provide the right equipment to staff members.
“No,” she replied.
The inquest then heard how a 2016 fire risk assessment showed there was no written policy in place for the disposal of ash from open fires and grills and said some staff did not know how to proceed.
Fiona Meek, risk and security manager for Village Hotels, the group responsible for Cameron House Resort, said risk assessments would take place once a year and she would support the resort manager in implementing health and safety policies.
Fire checks would be carried out by a third party company and the findings reported to hotel management.
Ms Meek told the inquest she had not checked that these had been implemented.
In a subsequent risk assessment, the company submitted a report stating that the 2016 recommendations had not yet been implemented.
However, the resort manager disputed this and emailed Ms Meek, who was seen by the investigation, saying recommendations had been put in place.
Ms Meek was asked if she had checked whether the recommendations had been implemented, to which she replied on inquiry that she had not done so because the company had agreed with the resort manager that a mistake had been made.
She said: “If the answer had come back that different, I would have asked more questions.”
Later, Ms Meek was asked about the enhanced security measures the hotel had put in place since the fatal fire in 2017.
She said a new sprinkler system had been put in place along with improved safety training for staff members and management. She couldn’t tell the inquest what it was all about.
Before the 2017 fire, Ms Meek visited the site quarterly, but said she now visits the site monthly.
Hotel operator Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd has already been fined £500,000 and night porter Christopher O’Malley has received a community reimbursement order for the fire.
Dumbarton Sheriff Court heard in January last year that the fire started after O’Malley dumped ashes and embers from a fuel fire into a polythene bag and then put them in a closet of kindling wood and newspapers.
The hotel company has admitted that it did not take the necessary fire safety measures to ensure the safety of its customers and employees between January 14, 2016 and December 18, 2017.
The investigation at Paisley Sheriff Court before Sheriff Thomas McCartney continues.