Norfolk holidaymakers in hotel blaze - then coach taking them home crashes

Norfolk holidaymakers had to be rescued from their West Country hotel after a fire – and were then involved in a crash on their way home.

Guests at the Tantons Hotel, in Bideford, Devon, were awoken in the early hours of yesterday to find that a fire had broken out on the third floor of the building, which is next to a police station.

Four people had to be rescued by firefighters from the hotel roof, and 54 people, many of them elderly and still in their nightclothes, were led from the hotel and taken to the nearby Royal Hotel.

Among the guests staying at Tantons Hotel was a party from Norwich-based company Sunrise Direct – the party included 15 people from Norwich, six from Suffolk, seven from Cambridgeshire and 12 from Essex.

Paul Bennett, managing director of Sunrise Direct, said the party had arrived at the Tantons Hotel on Monday and the guests had been due to stay for four nights.

After the fire, Sunrise had made arrangements for the party to return home, but they had to wait until about 3pm to leave, because the police wanted to speak to some of the guests and the driver about the fire.

He said no one from the Sunrise party was hurt in the blaze, but confirmed that the coach had been involved in some kind of shunt on the way home.

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He said last night: 'It's very sketchy but the driver said that on a roundabout near Bristol, a car slammed on the brakes in front, and there was some kind of incident. But the driver said that it had not affected the journey back.'

Meanwhile, Dave Berry, a Norwich friend of some of the holidaymakers, said that he had spoken to them on a mobile phone, while they were still on the coach. He said: 'When I spoke to them at about 5.50pm they were still in Bristol, so I don't think they will be getting home on schedule.'

Mr Bennett said that his company was refunding their holiday costs and helping them make any claims on their travel insurance.

He said; 'We understand some people's luggage has been smoke-damaged so we will be giving them support on how to claim on their insurance.'

He said Sunrise would also be contacting customers whose future holidays may be affected because of the fire at the Tantons Hotel.

Sixty firefighters tackled the blaze at the Grade II listed 18th century hotel, which started at about 4am.

Sharon Knox and her 12-year-old son, Connor, were awoken by the increasingly desperate cries of those trapped on the roof.

'At first we thought it was ducks on the river but then we heard people shouting 'help, help', so we dialled 999,' she said. 'The smoke was billowing over and we could see the flames on the roof.'

At about the same time, night duty officers next door at Bideford police station also heard the screams for help.

'Three officers forced entry into the hotel and raised the alarm,' said Insp Ian Dawson.

'They effected the evacuation of the whole premises; the officers who turned up this morning saved lives without a doubt.'

Bideford fire station manager Graham Rooke said there was substantial damage to the third floor of the hotel.

A sergeant and two police officers who broke into the hotel to rescue guests were praised for their bravery.

A police spokesman said: 'They demonstrated extreme courage and bravery coupled with physical exertion breaking down doors to gain access to rooms.'

A 58-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of arson.

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