The last four weeks has seen the inquest into the deaths of the three victims of the horrific Penhallow Hotel fire in Newquay. The tragedy happened at the height of the holiday season in August 2007 and I blogged about it at the time. Now I've not had the time to follow the minutiae of the proceedings at Truro but the coroner Dr Emma Carlyon told the jury that they had to pass an 'open verdict' notwithstanding a lot of evidence of this being an arson attack. It's the lack of absolute certainty as to this being the case that was the determining factor here apparently.
So relatives of the deceased have yet to get final closure: police have a prime suspect but don't have the necessary proof to take things further at the moment. There had been questions about the response of Cornwall's fire brigade to the incident - they seem to have been exonerated as to the failure to save the three who perished, such was the ferocity of the blaze and the speed at which it took hold they had absolutely no chance of saving the one man and two elderly ladies.
There had been a change in the law whereby premises such as the Penhallow could make a self assessment as regards fire risk and precautions rather than someone from the fire brigade coming round and ordering certain actions to be taken. It seems that the Penhallow had been repeatedly advised that the fire precautions were inadequate. By citing Rule 22 of the Coroners Rules it was possible for some witnesses to avoid answering questions where there may have been legal consequences at a later date. One thing that could have been done by the Holdsworth Hotel group, owners of the Penhallow, was the placing of smoke alarms in each bedroom - remember the fire broke out in the early hours of the morning when a lot of folk would have been asleep. In the great scheme of things how much would it have cost to carry out this relatively straightforward procedure. When I moved to this cottage 14 years ago I put a smoke alarm in on the very first day, it's that important. It's a battery type and it's essential that one uses the Duracell sort of battery, some of the ordinary batteries are at risk of flattening before one is fully awake.
Mention must be made of the bravery of two sisters, Kirsty and Emma Schofield, who ran along the corridors knocking on doors and helping people to get out. It's quite possible that the death toll could have been worse but for their heroic efforts.
In writing about the Penhallow blaze before I mentioned that I had something close to a phobia about being in any location where I am squashed in with my fellow human beings be it a hotel, sports stadium or whatever. I don't like huge crowds anyway and for me when it comes to venues "small is beautiful" every time.