Torquay hotel firm fined £40,000 after Bideford fire put lives at risk
A hotel company has been ordered to pay £50,000 in fines and costs after a judge branded a blaze-hit hotel as a death trap.
The firm that ran the Tantons Hotel in Bideford were condemned for having a woeful and lamentable attitude to the safety of their guests before the fire which damaged the building last year.
They were hit by heavy fines after Exeter Crown Court heard how the 55 guests narrowly escaped death or injury when fire broke out in the middle of the night.
The fire alarm failed, an exit was blocked by cans of cooking oil, and one guest was sent back to bed when flames were spreading through the building.
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A 73-year-old guest was left in panic and terror when she was trapped between one fire exit which failed to open and another door which had no handle.
The company running the hotel, in Bideford's New Street, failed to implement safety improvements called for by experts more than three years before the fire, on May 31 last year.
The guests all escaped unhurt when they were rescued by police who heard guests screaming for help at 4am and called in firefighters.
A group of three guests and a hotel employee were rescued from a roof after climbing from a third floor window to escape the blaze. It took two hours to ensure everyone was safe. A shocking catalogue of more than 100 safety failures were detailed at Exeter Crown Court where the owners admitted breaking fire regulations.
Investigators found 13 areas without smoke or heat detectors, two detectors which had been clocked off, 18 inadequate fire alarms, 43 sub standard fire doors, 25 smoke resistant doors which did not close properly, six rooms without the proper compartmentalisation and two blocked exits.
Chescombe Ltd, which is based at the Water's Edge Hotel in Torquay and was represented by managing director Mrs Kanti Singh, admitted five breaches of fire regulations.
These allege the company: Failed to implement a risk assessment from December 2007; Did not have an adequate detection and alarm system; Did not secure evacuation routes; Allowed obstructions on evacuation routes; Blocked exits.
Hotel guest Anthony Westhead, aged 64, from Folkestone in Kent has admitted starting the fire, being reckless as to whether life was endangered and is awaiting psychiatric reports pending sentence.
Recorder Mr Andrew Maitland fined the hotel company a total of £40,000 with £10,015 costs, but allowed it three years to pay. "Each of these failings put people at risk of death or serious injury," he said.
Mr David Sapiecha, defending, said the company has already made a huge loss as a result of being unable to reopen the Tanton Hotel since the fire. It has debts of £1.6 million and its bankers have threatened to foreclose on Monday. He said the owners believed their fire protection was adequate because they received a positive inspection from the fire service in 2008.