Clipper fire blamed on vacuum cleaner

PUBLISHED: 18:18 01 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:26 25 August 2010

LAZY security guards, lax fire regulations and a blocked vacuum cleaner are believed to be behind the catastrophic damage caused by the Cutty Sark fire.

LAZY security guards, lax fire regulations and a blocked vacuum cleaner are believed to be behind the catastrophic damage caused by the Cutty Sark fire.

The blaze that engulfed Greenwich's famous landmark on May 21, 2007 was probably caused by accident, but was not helped by sloppy site security, a police investigation revealed on Tuesday.

The near-destruction of the world's sole surviving tea clipper, which was being taken apart for restoration, increased the renovation cost by a further £10 million.

Homicide investigator DCI Dave Garwood told a press conference at New Scotland Yard on Tuesday: "The investigation has found no evidence to suggest that the ship was subject to an arson attack.

"Having considered all the information available to us, the most likely cause was an industrial vacuum cleaner that was left on."

Together with the London Fire Brigade, police were able to pin-point the start of the fire to an aft stairwell on the ship's lower deck.

The 16-month investigation costing £40,000 concluded that a blocked Italian vacuum cleaner left on the ship was the most likely cause, as tests found it caught fire in a matter of hours if left switched on.

However, two security guards supplied by Munnelly Support Services Ltd were discovered to have failed to patrol the site on the night of May 20, 2007.

One guard dozed and read his bible while the other did not patrol after 9pm.

Police also found the guards had pre-filled their log book for the night of the fire with 'all is in order'. The page was 'clumsily' left in the site's waste paper basket. DCI Garwood said: "When the guards were spoken to, their accounts were vague and inconsistent.

"We cannot depend on anything they say. If they had patrolled when they should have done, they might have seen or smelt something. It's the most frustrating aspect of the investigation. They should have been the most valuable witnesses."

The guards were dropped along with Munnelly Support, but the ship's owners, the Cutty Sark Trust (CST), have not replaced the company providing site security, Heery International Ltd.

A spokesman for Heery International refused to comment on the report but in May last year, they told the Times: "Adequate and approved security measures were in place and are not being questioned."

Investigators found that the site had detailed guidelines for fire regulations, yet found no evidence that fire marshals had been assigned as required to make daily checks of the ship.

Yet the trust, which now faces a two-year delay and a £35 million bill for its restoration project, was not ready to comment on the security lapses.

Richard Doughty, CST chief executive, said: "I think the question of blame is not something we can deal with until we have considered the report.

"We will certainly be considering our position with our lawyers."

Almost £2.5 million has been donated to the Cutty Sark restoration project since the fire, and the clipper is expected to be reopened in summer 2010.

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