The mother of a man who died following a hotel blaze felt “tremendous guilt” she was not there to help rescue her son and his partner from the fire that claimed their lives, an inquiry has heard.
Simon Midgley, 32, and his partner Richard Dyson, 38, from London, died following the blaze at the five-star Cameron House Hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond, in December 2017.
The fatal accident inquiry (FAI) at Paisley Sheriff Court will look at issues around guest and fire safety at the hotel
Sheriff Thomas McCartney held a minute’s silence before the inquiry heard a statement written by Mr Midgley’s mother, Jane Midgley, about her “gregarious” son, who had told her the day before his death that “2018 was going to be our year”.
“It was clear he had so much to live for and I still can’t comprehend how it was all taken away in a blink of an eye,” the inquiry was told.
In the statement, read out by Crown counsel Graeme Jessop, she said the death has had a “devastating effect” on her life, and said her mental health had been severely impacted.
“The events of 18 December 2017 have had a devastating effect on my life. I cannot put into words what it was like to receive the telephone call from the police, telling me that my son had been killed so suddenly and in such shocking circumstances,” she said.
“It has been almost five years of torture since that day, missing my Simon and waiting for him to walk through the door, announcing his presence in his usual way, ‘I’m here, mother dear’.”
The inquiry was told: “Losing a child is heart-breaking and I will never be able to come to terms with it or accept that Simon has gone. Every waking hour I live through what has happened that day, seeing Simon’s face.
“The thought of how he must have felt when he was trapped in that building, fighting to get out, tortures me. He must have been so frightened and I feel tremendous guilt that I was not there to help him.”
The inquiry will determine whether any lessons can be learned to minimise the risk of future deaths.
As the opening evidence was read out, family members cried softly in the court room.
The inquiry heard that post mortem tests on both men found they died from inhalation of smoke fire gases, caused by the hotel fire, suggesting they were alive during the blaze.
Mr Dyson was declared dead by members of the Scottish Ambulance Service after they fought to save his life, while Mr Midgley died at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.
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.
Similar to inquests in England and Wales, an FAI is not a criminal trial but is a fact-finding exercise.
The inquiry heard of the fire safety system in the hotel at the time of the blaze.
Darren Robinson, who was the hotel’s night manager at the time, said fire and heat alarms were located across the property, and explained what would happen if just one went off.
“It sets off a buzzer on the fire control panel situated at reception. Once that goes off I, as the night manager, have three minutes to get to the detection, investigate it, check if it was a false alarm of if anything was going on,” said the 36-year-old.
“After three minutes it would automatically go to a full alarm,” he told Mr Jessop.
The court heard how in the early hours of December 18 the panel indicated there had been smoke detected, so as the fire warden, had begun investigating. Before the three minutes was over, he told the inquiry, he had activated the full alarm.
Moments later O’Malley opened the concierge cupboard, just off of the reception area, and smoke and flames erupted.
“It got very smoky very quickly. It started to get dark and then there was a loud bang, I guess, and all the lights went out,” he said.
Shortly after he left the building, but without the list of guests in the hotel, something he only realised when he was about to start the roll call, the inquiry was told.
The court was played the 999 call he made reporting the blaze, one he made from his mobile outside the building.
“At that time I was trying to get people out of the hotel. There was people just standing at their windows looking down,” he told Mr Jessop, before he added that it was a common occurrence in hotels for people to hear the fire siren and to assume it was a false alarm.
“I knew that was not the situation, I was just trying to emphasise the situation and get people out while I had hold of the fire services,” he said.
Waiting for emergency crews to arrive, the inquiry heard, there were people stuck in their hotel room and a group of men trying to get back in to help a young couple and their months-old baby but he had to physically stop them because it was not safe to do so.
As soon as firefighters arrived, he told them of those stuck in room 10. They were then rescued by ladders.
A roll call list was later obtained, the court heard, and guests had been moved to the nearby boathouse.
Once he and resort director Andy Roger became aware they did not have a location for the people in suite eight, where Mr Dyson and Mr Midgley were staying, he and a hotel manager alerted fire services.
“They went up straight away,” he said. “They indicated from inside there was no-one there.”
The inquiry continues.