Highland hotel fined £14,000 over death of American tourist

24 March 2023 by
Highland hotel fined £14,000 over death of American tourist

A Highland hotel has been fined £14,000 after an American tourist died when he stopped breathing after toppling backwards from an unsteady bench.

Patrick McGuire, 67, had been visiting Scotland with his wife Anne when the accident occurred.

Inverness Sheriff Court heard that the pair spent the night of 12 April 2019 at Glengarry Castle Hotel, near Invergarry.

McGuire went out in the rear grounds of the country house hotel at around 10.30pm to take some photos and have a cigarette.

His wife went to bed but woke up at around 12.30am and began searching the hotel after noticing that her husband had not returned.

Fiscal depute Roderick Urquhart told the court: "She then extended her search outside to the hotel grounds, whereupon she eventually found McGuire lying on his back with his head touching a nearby wall, in a seated position on a bench that had fallen backwards."

McGuire's neck was bent forwards, he had no pulse and was not breathing as well as being cold to the touch. His wife alerted hotel staff and ambulance and police attended.

The cause of death was ruled as "positional asphyxiation" after he became trapped against the wall and bench and was unconscious.

Urquhart said one of the police constables noted that a similar bench nearby had a tendency to tip backwards when sat on.

A later investigation found that groundsmen had propped up the 72kg Victorian-style bench's back legs with small wooden blocks to stop it sinking into the grass following bad weather.

The benches had been a fixture for around 60 years and had never been involved in an accident before, the court heard.

One of the owners of the family-run business, Robert MacCallum, had identified a risk with benches sinking into the grass during wet weather.

However, despite hiring a professional firm to carry out a full risk assessment of the hotel and grounds, the garden furniture was not identified as a specific risk and was not included in the regular maintenance list.

Health and Safety later took over the investigation and the inspector concluded that the benches were structurally sound but only when on solid ground.

Urquhart said: "In his report he said he considered that the reasonably practical measures he would have expected to have been taken by the hotel would include an assessment of garden furniture."

The court heard that since the incident the owners had carried out improvements to its procedures and had replaced the old benches with wooden ones that were on hard ground.

Defence agent Jaimie McGready said owners Robert and Donald MacCallum offered their "sincere condolences" to the family and friends of McGuire.

The pair offered support to McGuire's widow in the aftermath of his death and she later sent them a thank you card.

Sheriff Gary Aitken also offered his condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.

He added: "No one going on holiday [expects] that they will not come home. It is a tragedy that this event occurred."

Aitken reduced the fine from £20,000 to £14,000 as a result of the early plea of guilt to the charge under the Health and Safety Act 1974.

He said it "was in no way a value of Mr McGuire's life" but rather a reflection on the scale of the shortcomings of the hotel.

Copy: Alan Shields

Image: Sam Strickler/Shutterstock

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