The price of three lives: £80k

editorial image

A CALDERDALE couple who survived a hotel blaze that cost three lives have criticised the fine imposed on the Halifax company that owned it.

Donald and Shirley Sharp fled the Penhallow Hotel, Newquay, in the early hours of an August morning in 2007 as it became engulfed in thick smoke.

Outside, they watched flames ravage the hotel and Mr Sharp saw one guest jump to his death from a third-floor window after trying in vain to save his mother. Firefighters described it as the worst hotel blaze in 40 years.

O&C Holdsworth, of Harrison Road, Halifax, admitted failing to ensure fire detectors and alarms were working at the hotel or making an adequate risk assessment before the blaze.

Two directors, Nicola Burfitt and John McMillan, both denied three charges relating to them personally, and the prosecution said it was “not in the public interest” to pursue them.

Truro Crown Court was told the company had been warned about inadequate equuipment more than a year before the fire.

The company was fined £80,000 for health and safety failures.

Monica Hughes, 86, her 43-year-old son Peter, of Staffordshire, and 80-year-old Joan Harper, of Stoke-on-Trent, all died in the blaze.

Mr and Mrs Sharp said they could never forget that night.

“The fine doesn’t seem a lot for three lives,” said Mrs Sharp, 74.

“It is still so vivid in our minds.”

The couple were holidaying in Cornwall and were dropping off to sleep after midnight when they were woken by an alarm by which time smoke was filling the corridors.

Mr Sharp, 73, ushered his wife to safety from their first floor bedroom. Once outside she stood at the front of the hotel while her husband went round the side.

“I saw it burning like the clappers and Donald saw the man fall,” she said.

“We lost two suitcases of possessions and I lost jewellery but we had a lucky escape. Donald was able to get us out.”

Judge Paul Darlow said O&C had been reckless and was responsible for a systemic failure in the way it organised its fire safety but was not directly responsible for the fire and it was not certain better alarms would have prevented the deaths.

John Hughes, the son of Monica Hughes and brother of Peter, said disappointed with the punishment.

“To say I am disappointed is an understatement. It is a travesty of a fine,” he said.

“It should have been at least £500,000. I was hoping a large fine would have sent a message to the hotel industry at least.”

An inquest into the deaths in 2009 returned open verdicts despite hearing evidence that arson was the most likely cause.

An O&C statement described the fire as a tragedy but stressed it had not been found guilty of causing the fire or being responsible for loss of life.

It has since reviewed all its hotels to ensure full compliance with health and safety and fire safety procedures.