Sidmouth family’s Fortfield “nightmare”

PUBLISHED: 11:22 08 February 2011

Fortfield Mews residents Mike and Sasha Harrison with the burnt out Fortfield hotel in the background. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref shs 1524-05-11SH

Fortfield Mews residents Mike and Sasha Harrison with the burnt out Fortfield hotel in the background. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref shs 1524-05-11SH

Archant

A CONCERNED family-of-four have labelled living just feet from Sidmouth’s blaze-hit Fortfield Hotel as a “nightmare”.

Well ablaze. The Fortfield as seen from the cricket ground. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 0711-05-11AW

A CONCERNED family-of-four have labelled living just feet from Sidmouth’s blaze-hit Fortfield Hotel as a “nightmare”.

Mike and Sasha Harrison fear a possible third inferno at the now partly demolished premises will put them and their children at risk.

The couple say scrap scavengers, trespassing youths and ‘drug addict’ vagrants have given them “nothing but trouble” since they moved to their Fortfield Mews home in 2008.

“We’re not safe until that building comes down. It is a nightmare,” they told the Herald.

Demolition has started on the Fortfield hotel in Sidmouth. Picture by Terry Ife ref shs 7511-05-11TI

“The last bit of hotel is adjacent to us- God forbid if that was torched. When you go to bed at night you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s very upsetting.” said Sasha, 40.

Mike, Sasha and kids, Brendan, 11, and Georgia, 17, have twice had to pack up cherished belongings and prepared to flee their home.

They were evacuated on December 30 as the Fortfield burned 20feet away. The heat of the blaze could be felt through Brendan’s shut bedroom window.

The family were on evacuation stand-by on Friday, January 28, as firefighters again fought to control flames.

Mike is unhappy with long-term security arrangements at the site and wants an apology from its owner.

The 47-year-old says he has chased, challenged and warned “undesirables” from the compound on a weekly basis.

A fortnight ago Mike said he pursued and caught three youths who set fire to cardboard in the grounds. Sasha and a neighbour then doused the flames before police arrived.

Mike was concerned workers, legitimately working at the site, left a fire exit opposite his home insecure last month.

He discussed his worries with district council building control experts- who paid him a visit- hours before the latest fire started.

“I think what’s been done with security over the years just isn’t enough.

“There’s quite a good neighbourhood watch here. In a way we’ve been saving the owner a lot of money by keeping an eye on the place. Our lives are threatened so we are going to keep an eye on it.

“Hopefully he can find it within himself to give us an apology for all the hassle this has caused.

“In tough economic times look at what it has cost the fire brigade and police.”

Site owner Andrew Torjussen did not wish to comment this week.

He said after the first blaze: “There’s very little to stop people getting in if they really want to.”

The would-be developer of Sidmouth’s Fortfield Hotel says criminals “hell-bent” on torching the building are solely to blame for fire drama that has left the premises in ruins.

ZeroC managing director Kim Slowe defended ramped up security measures at the site- and its owner.

Mr Slowe said his firm has done “everything possible” to safeguard the blaze-hit site since signing a subject to planning permission option on Christmas Eve.

The developer last month paid for security improvements, which included boarding up numerous windows, regular patrols and improving the site’s perimeter fence.

He described the breach of those last Friday as “deeply disappointing.”

“Someone made a very conscious decision to go into the site. Their actions put the lives at risk. It’s deeply concerning,” said Mr Slowe.

Mr Slowe arranged for 24-hour surveillance of the compound over the weekend. Frequent security patrols will continue there.

He added: “The site had a proper security fence and patrols were in place. There was a hardened criminal in whatever shape or form hell-bent on setting fire to that building. It doesn’t matter what you put in place- someone who is very determined is probably going to have their way.”

Mr Slowe revealed contractor had been relieved of their duties at the site after local residents raised concerns about the nature of legitimate work taking place there.


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