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Angus holiday cottage owners admit breaches over student’s carbon monoxide poisoning death

Mr Hill died in the remote Angus cottage.

An 18-year-old student died in the bathroom of an Angus holiday cottage after being poisoned by carbon monoxide.

Thomas Hill was on holiday with his girlfriend and her family at remote Glenmark Cottage, Tarfside, by Edzell, in October 2015.

Desperate attempts were made to save his life but he was pronounced dead en route to Ninewells Hospital.

The cottage is owned by Burghill Farms, a partnership which, at the time of Mr Hill’s death, was run by the Earl and Countess of Dalhousie with their son Simon Ramsay, Lord Ramsay.

The cottage was sub-let and run by 76-year-old Piers Le Chaminet.

Burghill Farms is now run by Lord Ramsay and trades as Dalhousie Estates.

student carbon monoxide Angus
Lord Ramsay arrives at Dundee Sheriff Court.

At Dundee Sheriff Court, Burghill Farms and 76-year-old Piers Le Cheminant, who was sub-leasing the building, pled guilty to breaches of gas safety and health and safety regulations.

Members of Mr Hill’s family and Lord Ramsay were present in court.

A fatal accident inquiry is still to be held into animal lover Mr Hill’s death, which will examine the wider issues of gas safety.

Faulty heaters identified

The court was told how the four gas cabinet heaters fitted throughout the cottage should never have been installed, due to the small sizes of the rooms.

An investigation found damage to the ceramic plaques in the bathroom heater was a “crucial factor” in Mr Hill’s death.

student carbon monoxide Angus
Thomas Hill

Ten days before the teenager died, a family staying at the same cottage encountered problems with the bathroom heater making “putt-putt” noises and causing a woman’s eyes to sting.

Le Cheminant instructed a local gas engineer to replace the gas bottle and found no issues.

However, the engineer was not qualified to undertake work on the heaters.

Tragedy unfolds

Fiscal depute Gavin Callaghan said: “On October 28 2015, Mr Hill went to take a bath during the afternoon.

student carbon monoxide Angus

“Around an hour after he went to have his bath, his girlfriend went to check that he was okay.

“The bathroom door was locked and receiving no response, entry to the room was ultimately forced, whereupon Mr Hill was found sitting, resting against the door.

“There was a smell of gas emanating from the gas heater in the room, which was noted to be making a buzzing sound.

“This was turned off and CPR was commenced.”

student carbon monoxide Angus
Glenmark Cottage, at the foot of Mount Keen.

Mr Callaghan added: “Extensive efforts were made to resuscitate Mr Hill by various persons, including his girlfriend’s family, estate workers and ambulance personnel.

“Mr Hill was placed into an ambulance to be conveyed to Ninewells Hospital but was pronounced dead en route there.”

A post-mortem examination confirmed Mr Hill, a first-year student at Stirling University and animal rescue worker, had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Health and Safety investigation

Burghill Farms sub-let the cottage to Le Cheminant and the four gas heaters were already within the property.

A Health and Safety Executive investigation concluded the gas engineer Le Cheminant instructed should have realised the gas heater in the bathroom and those elsewhere had he seen them, would require minimum room volumes and ventilation requirements.

Mr Callaghan told how the minimum room size for a heater of that sort is 45m3.

The size of the bathroom was 11m3.

He added: “The bathroom heater was tested at the Health and Safety laboratory at Buxton and was found, at five minutes of testing there, to emit a loud roaring sound and to emit significant levels of CO (carbon monoxide).

“Over 30,000 parts per million were produced.

“One percent of CO in the air would equate to 0.0001ppm.

“There is a possibility of the crack having widened or progressed during journey to Buxton or during testing there.

“There is no evidence of any person reporting a loud roaring sound during the use of the bathroom heater at he cottage.”

Guilty pleas

It was revealed how neither Burghill Farms nor Le Cheminant had a “pro-active” system of maintenance for gas safety.

The engineer instructed by Le Cheminant did not have a certificates to work on mobile gas heaters or work in the class of building under which the cottage fell.

Burghill Farms’ position was that it believed Le Cheminant was attending to gas safety inspections.

This is denied by Le Cheminant, who said at no time did the partnership indicate he was to arrange any inspections.

student carbon monoxide Angus
The case was heard at Dundee Sheriff Court.

Burghill Farms, a partnership having place of business at Dalhousie Estates, Brechin, pled guilty to failing to ensure that gas cabinet heaters were maintained in a safe condition so to prevent risk of injury to holiday residents between March 1 2008 and October 28 2015.

The partnership admitted the heaters were within the cottage without a suitable and sufficient system of maintenance and that they were of an insufficient size, whereby persons were exposed to risk of injury or death as a result of exposure to carbon monoxide.

Le Cheminant, of Dorset, admitted a similar charge while acting as a self-employed person and operating a holiday let and place of work by failing to maintain safe conditions so as to prevent risk of injury.

Condolences expressed

Sheriff Gillian Wade QC deferred sentence until October 28 with social work reports being ordered for Le Cheminant.

She said: “May I extend the court’s sympathies and my own personal sympathies and condolences to the members of Mr Hill’s family and wider family.”

After Friday’s court hearing, Lord Ramsay issued a statement, saying: “We offer our deepest condolences to Thomas Hill’s family and friends for their tragic loss and hope that today’s proceedings and the fatal accident inquiry will give them some comfort.

“As the owner of the property, Burghill Farms believed matters regarding safety were being attended to, with a gas engineer attending to maintenance at the property.

“It became evident during the complex investigation into this case that was what was required of us went beyond that and we have admitted to our share of responsibility in court today.”