Open verdict on hotel victims

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The Independent Online
THE Sheraton hotel in Cairo in which a blaze killed 17 people would have failed British fire regulations, an inquest was told yesterday.

Alan Warden, a fire expert commissioned by the families of four British women who died, said sprinkler systems at the five-star hotel were 'limited', that fire doors were too few and badly installed, and that alarms were switched off.

The inquest jury at Watford, Hertfordshire, returned an open verdict on the deaths of Janet Parker, 42, Sally Tate-Gilder, 32, and Jackie Moore, 59 - beauty writers attending the launch of a new perfume - and Virginia English, 43, an air stewardess.

They died when a fire in an adjoining ornamental tent spread through the six-storey Heliopolis on 1 March 1990. Mr Warden, of Geoffrey Hunt and Partners, consultant engineers and chemists, flew to Egypt a week later.

He found that sprinklers had been installed only in laundry areas; that corridors 100 metres long (328ft) were not sub-divided by fire doors; and that there was a hotel policy of switching off fire alarms as soon as they sounded. Many survivors said they had heard no alarms.

All the women except Jackie Moore died from inhaling smoke - Mrs Moore died from severe burns - yet fire doors may have prevented the spread of smoke.

'I tried to find out exactly what the Egyptian fire standards were but co-operation was absolutely zero,' Mr Warden said. Asked by the coroner, Dr Arnold Mendoza, whether the hotel would have passed British safety standards, he said: 'The British fire brigades would not have allowed it. They would have insisted on fire doors every 18 to 25 metres.'

General Shawky al-Shawky, of the Cairo civil defence administration, said in a statement that the authorities were satisfied the hotel had fulfilled its safety obligations, although three members of staff subsequently received two-year jail sentences for negligence.

No Sheraton representatives attended. Several relatives of victims and some survivors are suing the corporation for damages.