Firefighters at hotel blaze did not know guests were unaccounted for – inquiry

·4 min read

Firefighters attending a fatal hotel blaze did not realise there were guests unaccounted for as they battled the flames, an inquiry has heard.

The blaze at the five-star Cameron House Hotel claimed the lives of Simon Midgley, 32, and his partner, Richard Dyson, 38, from London, in December 2017.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry into the hotel inferno on the banks of Loch Lomond, near Balloch, is being held at Paisley Sheriff Court.

The inquiry had previously heard how the two men had tried to smash a window to escape the burning hotel.

Graham Atwell
Graham Atwell gave evidence on Wednesday (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Their bodies were later found on the second floor landing area by firefighters.

Graham Atwell, a retired watch commander at Balloch Fire Station, was among the first firefighters to arrive at the 128-room hotel.

Prior to the crews’ arrival, they had been alerted to a couple and their son being trapped in a top floor room and firefighters were preparing to rescue them.

Mr Atwell said he spoke to the hotel’s duty manager on arrival.

Russell Mackay
Retired firefighter Russell Mackay’s crew was involved in tackling the blaze (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mr Atwell, who had about 35 years of firefighting experience before retiring, told the inquiry: “I don’t specifically remember speaking to him to ask if everybody was out the hotel except the one family we knew of at the window.

“But I recall being happy everyone was out and I believe (the duty manager) was happy that everyone else was out of the hotel.”

Mr Atwell said “prioritising life” was the first instruction always carried out by firefighters at the scene of an incident, and he told the inquiry his team would not have proceeded with firefighting if he had thought there were people trapped.

Following the successful rescue of the family of three, Mr Atwell asked the duty manager if a roll call had been carried out.

He told the inquiry he was told the formal process could not progress as the staff did not have a guestlist.

Mr Atwell retrieved the guestlist from the reception area and a roll call began as guests were taken to the boathouse nearby.

An update to the fire service from Mr Atwell at 7:10am noted that officers were still trying to ascertain if a roll call had been carried out.

By 8:16am, the crew was notified that occupants Mr Midgley and Mr Dyson were unaccounted for.

When asked by the procurator fiscal what made him happy that all bodies were accounted for earlier in the morning, Mr Atwell said: “It was one of the first conversations I would have.

“After the conversation with the duty manager I was quite confident that everybody was out.

“I don’t remember directly asking or whether I was told but I was confident there was no one left.”

Earlier, the inquiry heard from Russell Mackay, 58, a retired watch commander at the Dumbarton station.

His crew, with a crew from Balloch, was rescuing the family of three from their top-floor room.

Mr Mackay’s crew, who were initially largely responsible for extinguishing the fire, changed their strategy as soon as they “knew there were causalities missing”, the inquiry heard.

The firefighters did not know Mr Midgley and Mr Dyson were unaccounted for when they first went into the hotel, he said.

Mr Mackay said: “If we had found out the number of persons and where they were reported to be at that time, then we could have got to them quicker.”

Hotel operator Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd was previously fined £500,000, and night porter Christopher O’Malley was given a community payback order over the fire.

Dumbarton Sheriff Court heard in January last year that the fire started after O’Malley emptied ash and embers from a fuel fire into a polythene bag, and then put it in a cupboard of kindling and newspapers.

The hotel firm admitted failing to take the necessary fire safety measures to ensure the safety of its guests and employees between January 14 2016 and December 18 2017.

The company admitted two charges of breaching the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.

O’Malley admitted breaching sections of health and safety laws which relate to the obligation on an employee to take reasonable care for the health and safety of people affected by their acts or omissions at work.