Penhallow Hotel Fire – Why did I loose my Mother and Brother?
- Mom Peter and myself
My name is John Hughes, My mother and brother (Monica and Peter) tragically lost their lives in the Penhallow Hotel fire in Newquay, Cornwall in August 2007. I am not a fire safety expert, but have learned much since the fire particularly when I took an active part in the 4 week long inquest into the deaths at Truro earlier this year (2009).
The loss of my mother and brother was absolutely devastating to our family who were all very close, Peter in had all of the same interests as me and his loss in particular was like having my right arm cut off. With time I will learn to live with their loss, but I am determined that no other family go through what we have gone through.
“This was a preventable tragedy”
My mother and brother travelled to Cornwall for a week’s holiday. On the surface, the hotel seemed fine, this it seems, was not the case.
During the inquest I was able to ask many questions of the witnesses including guests police officers, fire brigade personnel, the best fire experts in the country and the hotel owners and managers. ALL of my questions were answered by everyone with the exception of the Hotel Owners and Managers who took advantage of a coroner’s court rule which enabled them not to answer the questions.
What were these questions that were so difficult? Well, some of my unanswered questions were ……
What was the procedure for weekly alarm testing?
What was the company policy regarding fire training for permanent staff?
Who carried out the last full test of the fire alarm system?
When it was last tested?
Was it tested weekly?
Did all bedrooms have smoke detectors?
The electrical safety check was 16 months overdue when the fire took place – whose responsibility was it to ensure it was completed?
Was the Fire Alarm system installed by a fully qualified engineer?
Did the Penhallow have a fire risk assessment?
– just to name a few.
The fact that the owners and managers refused to answer my questions on these matters strongly suggests to me that the hotel was at fault. Other evidence produced during the inquest raised questions regarding the fire alarm system, fire doors, fire training etc etc etc – indeed a catalogue of failures. As this is part of an ongoing criminal prosecution, I must add that these are MY opinions based upon evidence I have seen and which was produced at the inquest. I am keen to hear these questions answered in a criminal court, where the owners will not be able to hide behind the coroner’s rule.
“I don’t blame the Fire Brigade”
You may find it hard to believe that I in no way blame the fire service. This was not always the case, indeed before we had sight of the enormous evidence bundle prior to the inquest, I too needed answers from the fire brigade – such as “why did they not rescue my mother?” At that time I did not know anything about the Fire Safety Order 2005 and what it meant. Unlike the hotel owners, the Fire Brigade answered all of my questions and this proved to be somewhat of a revelation to me.
“Why were the Fire Brigade not at fault?”
Basically, in 2005 a new fire law came into being (Regulatory Fire Safety Order 2005). This put the onus for fire safety directly with the owner of the property – be it a hotel, factory, care home, shop or bed and breakfast. The old fire safety certificate was therefore invalid and a new thing called a “fire risk assessment” needed to be carried out by a “competent person”. All premises were given 1 year moratorium from 2005 in which to comply with the new law. It was then the job of the fire brigade to ENFORCE THE LAW. One major change was that the hotels had to ensure that all of their guests could evacuate safely in the case of a fire – THIS WAS NOT THE ROLE OF THE FIRE BRIGADE – THE HOTEL MUST ENSURE THAT ALL GUESTS CAN ESCAPE TO SAFETY !
Some hotels got their act together and ensured that their systems and procedures were updated, others did not – and amazingly still do not comply with the law even today!!
“Who SHOULD complete a fire risk assessment”
As I said in the beginning, I am not a fire safety expert, similarly, most hotel managers are not fire safety experts and it needs a real fire safety expert to complete the fire risk assessment properly. There is a saying – “you don’t know what you don’t know” - this is certainly the case in fire safety. Hoteliers therefore need to employ a fire risk assessor who belongs to an accredited body such as the Institute of Fire Engineers. Many hoteliers are still waiting for the knock on the door from the fire brigade and expect them to advise on their fire safety – however, it is the owners responsibility and their responsibility alone to ensure their premises are safe. Indeed, now when the fire brigade knock on the door, it will be to issue an enforcement notice or to shut them down!
“We are therefore trying to get a few things changed …”
• We would like a register of accredited fire risk assessors – so that hoteliers, bed and breakfast owners, care home owners, all know who to trust for their fire risk assessment.
• We would like an on-line system for the fire risk assessment that would also aid the fire service in policing this law.
• We would like to see a “fire safety” mark for all hotels etc so that the general public know where they can sleep safely.
• We need to “weed out” the rogue operators who think that they can get away with ignoring fire safety and the fire service must bring these cases to court.
In our research, we came across Bob Ward’s excellent on-line fire risk assessment system ( http://www.fire-compliance-safety.com/ ) and fully endorse this comprehensive product, which is backed up by fully trained assessors. If only the Penhallow Hotel had this system and were complying with it’s findings, I would not be writing this article.
Please help us prevent a future tragedy – see our website – http://www.stop-fires.co.uk/ – which contains some basic advice, sign our online petition and help us make a difference.
We need to ensure that a preventable tragedy such as the Penhallow fire cannot affect another family as it has affected mine.
- Photo Courtesy of the Western Morning News