'Opportunities missed' to bring prosecutions over deadly hotel blaze

The hotel's parent company is in liquidation and the owner has died, raising fears that nobody will ever be held accountable.

‘Opportunities missed’ to bring prosecutions over deadly blaze at New County Hotel in Perth Lukas Kuba

A year on from a fire that claimed the lives of three people, there is concern that no one will be held criminally responsible.

Sisters Donna-Janse Van Rensburg and Sharon McLean from Aberdeen and Keith Russell, who was from Edinburgh, all died in the blaze along with Donna’s dog Joey, at the New County Hotel in Perth on January 2 last year.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated by police.

But with the hotel’s parent company, Perth Hospitality, now in liquidation and the death of the owner Rashid Hussain, there are questions whether anyone will ever be held accountable.

Two days into 2023, the fire tore through the city centre hotel in the early hours of the morning.

Karen Kennedy, former hotel manager, said earlier this year: “These young people have families at home. One night of horror has turned into a lifetime of grief for them.”

It has haunted hotel staff too.

Karen Kennedy.

Workers said they raised repeated concerns about faulty electrics, fire hazards and freezing conditions. They also claim the owner refused to pay for repairs.

Staff showed STV News pictures and videos of damp, water pouring from light fittings, and torn carpets patched together with tape.

In the days after the fire, former housekeeper Maggie McLeod said: “Conditions, horrendous, no heating, sometimes no hot water. It was so cold. Although it was put to the owner, many a time in email or video call but nothing was ever done.”

Weeks before the blaze, the fire service identified a catalogue of safety failures. Issues were found with fire doors, escape routes and emergency lighting.

The hotel was served with three health and safety improvement notices by the council over torn carpets, broken windows and having no competent staff on duty overnight.

A year on, the hotel is boarded up, the company has gone into liquidation and the owner died in the summer but the investigation into what caused this devastating fire continues.

Donna Janse Van Rensburg, 44, and Sharon McLean, 47, both from Aberdeen, and ‘loving father’ Keith Russell, 38, originally from Edinburgh, all died in the blaze.

 A team of 13 police officers are still working on the case. They’ve spoken to almost 200 people in the last year in what they describe as a complex and challenging inquiry.

Comparisons have been drawn with the Cameron House hotel fire, which claimed the lives of two people in December 2017.

In that case, the company was fined half a million pounds after admitting breaching fire safety rules and a hotel porter was sentenced to 300 hours of unpaid work.

Ian Tasker, CEO of Scottish Hazards, said: “The two buildings are at the opposite end of the hospitality industry, in relation to the quality of the accommodation they provided, but clearly tragedies and carelessness we believe have caused five deaths in  the hospitality industry in the space of five years. To us that’s not acceptable.

“People should be able to spend money for accommodation and feel safe they are going to waken up and not having been harmed by negligence by the employer.”

“The options open are prosecution against the company or prosecution against an individual. I think our concern is that these opportunities are missed because the company is in liquidation and the individual is deceased.”

While questions remain over what caused the fire, a year on those who lost their lives will be remembered.

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