Newquay's Penhallow 'worst UK hotel fire in 40 years'

Penhallow Hotel - Pic: Press Association
Image caption The hotel in Newquay was demolished after the fire

The owners of a Cornish hotel destroyed by fire have been fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £62,000 costs for failing to meet fire safety standards.

Three people died as a result of the blaze at the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay in 2007.

The fire at Newquay's Penhallow Hotel was described by firefighters as the worst British hotel fire in 40 years.

The blaze ravaged the hotel, killing three people, on 18 August 2007.

At its peak more than 100 firefighters battled flames 30 feet (9.1m) high, which tore through the 54-bedroom hotel in the Cornish holiday resort shortly after midnight.

The victims, Monica Hughes, 86, her son Peter Hughes, 43 and Joan Harper, 80, were all from Staffordshire.

Mr Hughes, a teacher from Cheslyn Hay, jumped from a third floor window after trying in vain to save his mother.

In March 2011, the hotel's owner, O&C Holdsworth Ltd, of Harrison Road, Halifax, Yorkshire, admitted two charges relating to fire safety breaches.

They failed to ensure fire detectors and alarms were working at the hotel and failed to make an adequate risk assessment before the blaze.

Suitcases in corridor

Two directors of the company, Nicola Burfitt and John McMillan, both denied three charges relating to them personally, with the prosecution saying it was "not in the public interest" to pursue them.

It has been a long road to justice for the families of those who died in the fire.

It was revealed at an inquest in June 2009 that the hotel was not complying with fire safety regulations introduced in 2005.

The regulations stipulated, among other things, that each room must have its own smoke alarm.

Guests giving evidence said the fire alarm could not be heard on the third floor, where all of the people who died were staying.

Witnesses at the inquest also spoke of suitcases being left in the corridor overnight, which hampered their escape.

There was also criticism of some of the building's electrical wiring, which dated back to the 1960s.

The inquest heard from experts that arson was the most probable cause of the fire, which is thought to have started in the hotel bar, but it could not be conclusively proved.

Unanswered questions

Cornwall coroner Dr Emma Carlyon ordered the jury to return open verdicts on all three victims, saying there was insufficient evidence to rule they were unlawfully killed.

Image caption Joan Harper, Monica Hughes and Peter Hughes died in the Penhallow Hotel fire

Hotel manager Andy Woollam and his partner Sarah Jane Duffy, the assistant manager, both refused to answer questions regarding fire safety regulations at the hotel during the 18-day inquest.

Christopher Gunn, the night porter on the night of the fire, did the same. He and Mr Woollam gave contradictory evidence to the inquest about events.

Mr Gunn was arrested by Devon and Cornwall Police in 2008 in connection with the fire but later released without charge.

It was not until 2010 that a civil prosecution case began against the hotel's owners and several members of staff by Cornwall Council and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service for breaches of health and safety laws.

Speaking after the hearing in March 2011, John Hughes, whose mother and brother died, said he hoped lessons would be learnt by the tourism industry.

Mr Hughes said: "I am pleased at least to have an admission of guilt from the owners of Penhallow. It has been hell for the last few years,"

"To lose two members of your family is beyond most people's imagination.

"The best thing that could come out of this is that the tourism agencies and hotels sit up and take note."

The fire also contributed to a decision by Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to introduce 24-hour cover in the popular resort town, which has had more than a quarter of all fires in the county in the past five years.

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