Unsolved Murders

Monica Hughes

Age: 86

Sex: female

Date: 18 Aug 2007

Place: Penhallow Hotel, Island Crescent, Newquay, Cornwall

Peter Hughes, Monica Hughes and Joan Harper were found dead in Penhallow Hotel following a fire on 18 August 2007.

Four people, the bar manager, the hotel porter, and the hotel managers, were arrested during the police murder investigation but were all released without charge.

The Crown Prosecution Service later said that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal conviction through the courts.

The local council later took out summonses for the prosecution of the hotel owners for fire safety breaches relating to the Regulatory Reform Order (Fire Safety) 2005. The owners were later ordered to pay a £80k fine (£142k fines and costs in total), in May 2011, after their company, O & C Holdsworth Ltd, admitted health and safety failures including inadequate fire alarms and smoke detectors. The company had been charged with failing to take general fire precautions amounting to neglect, failing to make a sufficient fire risk assessment, failure to ensure a quick and safe evacuation route from the building, and failure to ensure the hotel was equipped with sufficient fire detection equipment and fire alarms.

Two company directors denied three charges against them personally and the prosecution said that it was not in the public interest to pursue them.

An Independent fire safety expert was also charged with failing to make a sufficient assessment of fire safety risks in connection with the fire but the charges against him were later dropped.

The hotel was inspected in July 2006 and several failings were found including the lack of an L2 alarm system which included loud smoke and fire alarms in every room. Also, it was found that only 26 rooms out of 59 had self-closing doors. It was also found that some windows around the fire escape didn't contain fire resistant glass.

The company had said that it was aware of the issues but did not think they were urgent and had begun to look into them. It said that the company was a responsible company and had a spotless legal history since 1947 and that it had upgraded its fire safety systems in its hotels in Eastbourne, Torquay and the Isle of Wight.

Fire service investigators and independent experts concluded that the fire had been started deliberately with a naked flame. However, they could not find a motive.

The fire was said to have started on the ground floor in the hotel bar drink store and spread with speed and ferocity through the rest of the hotel. Later at an inquest it was also heard that the fire could have been started by a petrol-soaked rag being thrown on to the roof.

An inquest heard that there were fire alarms fitted and that the fire alarm had allegedly been triggered in zone six but that there wasn't a fire in zone six.

Police said 'The speed at which this took place, linked to some witnesses saying what they smelled and saw that night, and other things which I am not willing to go into now, means that this cannot have happened as a result of an electrical fault. This was a deliberate act and not an accident but we have no idea of a motive. That is only in the mind of the people or person responsible.'.

Peter Hughes was at the hotel with his mother Monica Hughes and he had been trying to rescue her but was eventually forced to jump from a third-floor window. However, it was thought that he had died from the smoke and toxic gas rather than the fall itself.

The hotel had 54 bedrooms and there were a total of about 90 people there at the time including staff.

The fire brigade was called at 12.17am on the night of 18 August 2007 and the fire crews arrived about 4 minutes later. The blaze was fought by more than 100 firemen. The flames were said to have reached 30 feet into the sky.

The hotel specialised in breaks for coach parties of elderly people.

As a result of the damage the hotel was later demolished.

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