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Hotel and night porter sentenced for failings that led to couple’s death

A London-based company has been fined £500,000 for fire safety failings which led to the deaths of two guests at the Cameron House Hotel in 2017.

An employee of the company had an 18-month Supervision Order imposed and a Community Payback Order and ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work after admitting health and safety failings which started the fire.

The court heard that in the early hours of 18 December 2017 Christopher O’Malley removed ash from an open fire in the hotel as part of his duties as a night porter.

O’Malley emptied the ash into a plastic bag and put it in a cupboard which contained combustible material including kindling and newspapers.

At 6:39am an alarm sounded. Staff noticed smoke coming from the cupboard. Shortly after the fire took hold and flames quickly spread. Guests and staff evacuated the hotel.

After 8:00am it was discovered that guests Richard Dyson and partner Simon Midgley were missing.

Firefighters recovered them from the second floor. The couple were found to have died as a result of smoke and fire gas inhalation.

In an incident three days earlier O'Malley had been told not to put ash into plastic bags.
Fire risk assessments carried out in 2016 and 2017 found that there was no written policy in place covering the emptying of hot ash from open fires. At the time of the fatal fire there was still no written procedure to follow.

On 22 August 2017 Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) carried out an audit of the hotel which highlighted the unacceptable issue with combustibles being stored within the cupboard.

A multi-agency investigation involving Police Scotland, SFRS and West Dunbartonshire Council took place. This was overseen by the Health and Safety Investigation Unit (HSIU) of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The investigation found that the company had failed to take the necessary fire safety measures required to ensure the safety of employees and guests and have proper procedures, training and supervision in place for the disposal of ash and embers from the hotel's solid fuel fires.

The company also failed to keep the cupboard that contained potential ignition sources free of combustibles and maintain and empty metal bins used for the storage of ash and embers.

Alistair Duncan, Head of the Health and Safety Investigation Unit, said:

“The failings on the part of Cameron House Resort and Christopher O’Malley led to the deaths of Simon Midgley and Richard Dyson.

“The tragic loss of these two lives has had a devastating impact on families and friends.

"These convictions and sentences are the culmination of a thorough and technical investigation carried out by Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, West Dunbartonshire Council and Police Scotland, overseen by the Health and Safety Investigation Unit of COPFS.

“This incident should serve as a reminder to other companies that failure to implement the necessary fire safety measures can have terrible consequences.”

Stuart Stevens, Assistant Chief Officer of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said:

“Today’s outcome follows a complex and detailed investigation, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Richard Dyson and Simon Midgley and all of those affected by the tragic event at the Cameron House Hotel on December 18, 2017.

“This needless loss of two lives could have been prevented and this sends a very clear message to businesses and organisations across Scotland that fire safety must remain of highest importance, and that all appropriate measures must be taken to protect the public and their staff.

“The requirement to act on our advice should not be underestimated and our enforcement officers will continue to support and advise those responsible for the safety of their premises wherever possible.”

Detective Inspector Stuart Grainger from Police Scotland said:

"This 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.

"While nothing will ever diminish the pain of their loss, we hope that the conclusion of this case brings at least a small measure of comfort."