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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 02:58 GMT 03:58 UK
Fears over fire safety in hotels
Alan Cox
Fire safety consultant Alan Cox conducted an undercover inspection
A worrying number of hotels in one of the UK's top tourist regions are ignoring basic fire prevention safeguards, according to an investigation by the BBC's Inside Out South West programme.

The programme's findings come in the aftermath of a devastating fire at the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay last month, which claimed three lives.

Fire precautions at 13 out of the 14 hotels visited by an undercover team were judged unsatisfactory by independent fire-safety consultant Alan Cox.

Failings included wedged-open fire doors, obstructed fire exits and a potentially useless fire escape. Alerted by Mr Cox, the fire service has already acted on his findings, requiring one of the hotels to urgently upgrade its precautions.

The Inside Out team filmed undercover at 14 randomly-chosen three-star hotels in four resorts. The worst problems were identified by Mr Cox at the Livermead Cliff Hotel in Torquay.

Locked escape

Mr Cox found one fire escape corroded and another sited next to open kitchen and bedroom windows. Windows next to fire escapes should be sealed shut to protect escapees from fire.

Inside the hotel, he found one fire-escape route ran through a locked guest room.

Other escape routes were through bedrooms opened by keys in smash-glass boxes.

In one dead-end corridor, a mattress store had no fire-proof door at all.

Mr Cox also found fire doors with no seals, fire doors left open, and a fire-exit sign that was pointing the wrong way.

It's amazing when I look at some of the fire risk assessments that I do see how na´ve some people are
Alan Cox

He was so concerned he sent his findings to the fire service, which has since inspected the hotel and agreed a programme of improvements with the owner, including the installation of an approved fire alarm system.

Hotel owner Timothy Rew told Inside Out the safety of guests was paramount and he would address any safety issues.

The fire service carries out spot checks on hotels and has the power to shut them down.

However last year, responsibility for assessing fire risks shifted.

'Very worried'

The fire service no longer issues fire certificates. Instead it is up to owners and managers to judge the risks - or get a consultant to do it for them - and take action.

But Mr Cox believes many hoteliers are not qualified to carry out or commission such an assessment.

He said: "I think the industry needs to be very worried indeed. I've been in this profession for more than 40 years, and I still learn things.

"It's amazing when I look at some of the fire-risk assessments that I do see how naive some people are."

The Penhallow Hotel fire broke out in the early hours of 18 August. Joan Harper, 80, died along with Peter Hughes, 43, and his elderly mother, Monica.

The hotel had a fire certificate, and a police investigation into the cause is continuing.

Alan Cox said Inside Out's investigation showed a tragedy like Penhallow could happen again.

"Certainly all the ingredients are there for a similar catastrophe," he said.

Ruins of the Penhallow Hotel
The Penhallow Hotel was destroyed by a fierce fire

But assistant fire officer Neil Gibbins, head of community safety with Devon and Somerset Fire Service, believes hotels are safer under the new system.

He said: "The responsibility for making a place safe from fire has always sat with the owner or the employer.

"The new law clarifies that by removing the fire certificate, which could have been seen as the MOT for the building.

"Leaving the responsibility firmly on the shoulders of the person who controls the building should be seen as an advantage."

A statement issued by the Livermead Cliff Hotel said any "outstanding issues" relating to fire protection were being addressed.

It said: "The Best Western Livermead Cliff Hotel considers the safety of its guests to be of paramount importance.

"The issues of fire protection was and is being considered as part of a much larger ongoing scheme of building development and refurbishment."

"We are in contact with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Services and will meet with them shortly with view to agreeing a programme and timetable of works which will address any outstanding issues and meet their ongoing requirements."

Man dies in seafront hotel fire
17 Sep 07 |  Lancashire
Fire site hydrants were 'clogged'
30 Aug 07 |  Cornwall
Inquiry ends at fire deaths hotel
29 Aug 07 |  Cornwall


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