Hotel company admits breaking fire regulations

More than 50 guests were evacuated from the hotel during the blaze in May last year.

THE company which operates Tantons Hotel in Bideford has admitted breaching fire regulations after a major blaze last year.

Chescombe Limited, of The Water’s Edge Hotel, Torquay, indicated a guilty plea on five counts of failing to take general fire precautions and putting guests and staff at risk of death or serious injury.

Company director and former manager of Tantons Hotel Kanti Singh appeared at North Devon Magistrates’ Court on behalf of Chescombe Limited on Wednesday.

There were more than 50 guests staying in the Grade II listed building on the riverfront when the blaze started on the third floor in the early hours of May 31, 2011.

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Several people were treated for smoke inhalation and four were rescued from the roof of the property by fire fighters, but nobody was seriously hurt.

One of the guests, Anthony Westhead, of Folkestone in Kent, was later charged with arson with intent to endanger life, and is currently awaiting trial.

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The court heard the hotel had failed to provide an adequate amount of fire alarms and heat detectors, and neglected to provide fire doors to the standard required.

The hotel had also failed to ensure all escape routes were unobstructed and ensure all final exit doors were easy to open in the event of danger.

Kingsley Keats, prosecuting on behalf of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue, said despite having a fire and safety audit carried out in December 2007, the hotel owners had failed to take action on the breaches discovered.

In a statement from Mrs Judith Hambrook, an elderly guest in the hotel on the night of the fire, the court heard how she became trapped between two doors.

She was woken around 3.30am by the sound of a fire alarm and followed the emergency exit signs to a door which should have lead her outside.

“I tried to open the door but I couldn’t; I assumed it was locked,” said Mrs Hambrook.

“I turned to go back on myself but the door behind me had closed and there was no handle on it.”

Mrs Hambrook managed to escape by putting her finger in a hole where the door handle would have been, and pulling the door towards her.

She retraced her steps, rescuing the woman in the room next to her on the way and eventually making it out through the main entrance.

Keith Needs, defending, said the owners had been a victim of an alleged arson attack and had already suffered a great loss.

He also told the court how Mrs Singh’s son has been commended for his bravery in helping guests escape from the fire.

Speaking after the hearing, Graham Rooke, Bideford station manager, said: “It is my belief that the hard work and professionalism of all emergency service personnel and a member of the hotel staff saved lives that may otherwise have been lost.

“It is key to say the fire and rescue service would much rather offer advice on how to comply with the legislation than taking legal action as has been the result in this case.”

Magistrates felt their powers were insufficient to sentence the company and the case will be heard at Exeter Crown Court on August 2.

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