Biggleswade dad had to kick his way out of blazing pool to save himself and his son

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A holiday park has been ordered to pay £55,000 in fines and costs after a fire in a sauna which almost killed a Biggleswade tourist and his seven-year-old son.

Holidaymaker Mark Milln was in the neighbouring swimming pool but had to smash his way through a double glazed panel with his bare feet after finding a fire door locked.

He and his son could have died within 90 seconds if he had not succeeded in kicking his way through the locked door and climbing through it, a court heard.

He suffered cuts to his feet and legs and two staff at the Europa Holiday Park at Woolacombe, North Devon, needed treatment for burns or smoke inhalation after they tried to put out the fire themselves.

The director in charge of the complex was handed a suspended sentence at Exeter Crown Court last week after a judge heard how he had ignored urgent recommendation by a fire safety expert six years earlier.

Graham Toms, aged 67, not only failed to install automatic fire alarms but he left the fire door locked. He went on to carry out the next inspection by himself and wrote his own report which watered down the expert’s advice.

He even changed the description of the fire door to ‘utility exit’ and suggested there was little risk because of the amount of water in the swimming pool.

Mr Milln was staying at the seaside park in August 2015 and was in the pool with his son when the fire broke out in the sauna.

Other swimmers and guests in the nearby games room got out by other exits but he and his boy were trapped because they headed straight for the fire door without realising it was locked.

Toms, of Berry Downs, Combe Martin, and Woolacombe Beach Holidays Ltd, which runs the pool complex, both admitted six breaches of fire safety rules which put customers at risk of death or serious injury.

Toms was jailed for six months, suspended for two years and the company was fined £40,000 with £15,474 costs by Recorder Mr Philip Mott, QC, at Exeter Crown Court

He said: “Mr Milln had to use his bare feet against a double glazed door. It must have been terrifying and would have required extreme amounts of force to break the glass.

“He received cuts and had to be treated in hospital. If he had not been prompted to such extreme exertions he would have expired very shortly though the effect of the smoke and fumes together with his son.

“The staff were young, inexperienced and untrained and there were no overall fire policies in place. An independent risk assessment in 2009 had given warnings and made requirements including an emergency latch on the fire exit door.

“Instead of following the requirement, three years later Mr Toms undertook to make a further risk assessment which he wrote himself, using the original one as a template.

“He simply removed the difficult areas of the report where work was needed and money had to be spent. Inevitably, his risk assessment was inadequate and of poor quality

“In Mr Toms’ case it amounted to wilful blindness in ignoring the 2009 report.

Mr David Sapiecha, prosecuting on behalf of the fire service, said there were a catalogue of failings of which the locking of the fire door was the most serious.

He said:”Mr Milln and his son were trapped and in grave danger. They were probably minutes away from death.”

He said when Toms was asked why he had not installed an automatic smoke alarm he told investigators he was worried it could be set off by smoke machines in the entertainment complex.

Two members of staff suffered burns from falling ceiling tiles and smoke inhalation as they tried in vain to tackle the blaze with extinguishers and it took 46 firefighters from ten appliances nine hours to put out the fire.

Mr Richard Crabb, defending, said Mr Toms wanted to apologise to Mr Milln and his son. He said he had done his best to keep the building safe and acted in good faith.

The exact cause of the fire is not known but it was not caused by any neglect by the company.

All the recommendations have now been carried out and Mr Toms now accepts his thinking in the past was mistaken and has now retired and handed over the business to his son.