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What a way to guard our national treasure

PUBLISHED: 18:14 08 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:28 25 August 2010

AFTER police revealed a blocked vacuum cleaner probably caused the Cutty Sark fire, newspaper hacks hoping for an exciting arson story were left a little disappointed.

AFTER police revealed a blocked vacuum cleaner probably caused the Cutty Sark fire, newspaper hacks hoping for an exciting arson story were left a little disappointed.

But even if detectives couldn't track down a deranged lunatic with matches, they did uncover some darkly hilarious information about the site's two night security men.

A 64-page investigators' report showed that in the hours leading to the fire, the guards spent the evening sleeping, reading and wondering whether they could smell burning.

Before the fire at 4.47am on May 21, 2007, the two guards were both supposed to patrol once every hour before midnight, then every two hours after then. Instead, according to the report, no patrols were completed after 9pm.

One guard admitted he had gone to the site's closed cafeteria to read his bible and "doze" before returning to the security hut at 4am - his colleague wanted to clean his teeth.

At this point one can only assume the dodgy vacuum cleaner was catching fire literally under their very noses, as one realised he could smell burning plastic. Amazingly, the guards could not locate the source of the fire for almost 50 minutes.

The report read: "Eventually, one guard climbed onto the scaffolding surrounding the Cutty Sark, where he too could now smell burning.

"Within a couple of minutes, huge flames erupted from the lower deck, together with a siren-type alarm immediately."

Perhaps the most embarrassing thing about these guards was that they had already filled in their log book entry for the evening with "all is in order".

One guard blamed his colleague for ripping it out because a drink was spilt onto it, then later admitted he falsified it because his colleague felt ill and wanted to go home early.

But police found that guard number two wasn't aware he had been feeling ill. "The sort of guys you get doing night security work are not paid very much and these guys weren't doing their job properly," lamented DCI Garwood.

"I don't think it's any more sinister than that."

Perhaps, but then why employ poorly-paid security guards from a cheap company to look after a national treasure? How many other sites are this poorly guarded?

What is more worrying is that the Diary understands that the Cutty Sark Trust still uses the company that organises the overall site security.

So far both the trust and Heery International Ltd have refused to comment, but you can bet the tension will be smouldering.

Can anyone else smell a lawsuit?

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