£1.5m Stormont blaze a catalogue of errors

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Indy Politics
An electrical fault in the wiring below the Speaker's chair - not terrorist action - was the most likely cause of the £1.5m blaze at the Stormont parliament building in Belfast last January,Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told MPs in a Commons statement yesterday, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Sir Patrick said an investigation by Sir Reginald Doyle had pointed up fire safety matters of "very serious concern".

Sir Reginald's report reveals that the fire went undetected for eight hours during the small hours of 2 January by watchkeepers who attributed an unusual smell to new lagging on heating pipes.

The first call to the brigade came from a member of the public the following morning, but the brigade arrived to find no water supply to the fire hydrant.

The catalogue of errors included the failure to patrol a restricted access section of the building that had been set aside for political talks, and the absence of a fire drill in the parliament buildings for nearly five years.

Sir Patrick said it was clear that fire safety precautions had not been given sufficiently high priority. "This, as Secretary of State, I greatly regret."

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, asked Sir Patrick to speculate "as to how many people in Scotland and England responsible for government buildings muttered under their breath, sotto voce, `there but for the grace of God went we'."

Glancing up at the massive wooden beams of the Commons chamber, Sir Patrick replied: "Fortunately, I've got quite enough responsibilities without acquiring responsibility for this place."