A Sandown businessman claims Saturday’s Ocean Hotel fire could have been prevented, if police had acted on his warnings.
Gamal Ragheb, of Zest, a shop which sells beach goods, souvenirs and vaping products on the High Street, behind the hotel, says he reported disturbances inside the building to police on a number of occasions.
His was one of two businesses affected by water and smoke damage from firefighters battling the blaze – the other being Present Times, owned by Jo Langford next door.
Both praised the firefighters for their efforts in stopping the blaze jumping a couple of feet over a gap between the hotel and the back of their businesses, which have been temporarily forced to close.
But Gamal, who has owned the shop since 2012, said: “Over the last week or so, I could hear loud music and see teenagers walking up the stairs from my storeroom window. On one occasion there was a loud bang, as if a door was being smashed down.
“I phoned the police and was told it was a civil matter as there was no one at risk. I even phoned the estate agent, who told me to phone the police!
“On the day of the fire I saw two teenage boys with black tops and short sleeves walking up the stairs inside. Nothing was done to prevent them getting inside.
“Now, my stock room has been flooded and I have no water, so I can’t open the shop. Part of the ceiling at the back may not be secure and will have to be checked. I’m just waiting for the loss adjustor to visit.
“In 2019, my shop window was vandalised twice and on a third occasion, I was subject to a robbery. My insurance premium and the excess payments keep going up; I feel like I am the victim.”
Jo, who has owned next door’s business for 26 years, is also closed for the time being. She said: “There’s smoke damage and water in the stock room. The gap between the hotel and the back of our building saved us from the fire. The firemen did a great job to contain it.
“I’m not too sure how safe our ceiling is at the back; it has degenerated over the years because the hotel has been left vacant. Water pours down from its balcony onto the back of our building. All I can do is ventilate the place to get rid of the smell of smoke.”
A Hampshire and Isle of Wight Police spokesman confirmed: “We are aware of issues at the derelict Ocean Hotel site, and local officers have been working with the site owner to address the security of the premises.
“If incidents such as criminal activity or anti-social behaviour are reported to us then we will respond where appropriate and possible. On April 30 this year, we received reports of youths trespassing at the site and behaving anti-socially.
“All calls that come into our control room are risk assessed before a deployment decision is made. Factors include if a crime is on-going, whether there is an immediate threat to life, and whether there are any units available who are not responding to priority calls.
“On this occasion, all units were committed with high priority incidents and no resources were available to attend the site following reports of youths at the location.”