A guest at a Highland hotel died after a heavy metal bench he was sitting on toppled backwards and trapped him against a wall, a court has heard.

Patrick McGuire, 67, from Wisconsin in the US, was knocked unconscious at the Glengarry Castle Hotel, near Invergarry, in April 2019.

Inverness Sheriff Court heard the cause of his death was asphyxiation.

The hotel’s owners have been fined £14,000 after admitting a health and safety breach.

Sheriff Gary Aitken told the court: “No-one goes on holiday expecting not to come back. 

“There can be fewer low risk activities than sitting outside on a garden bench, taking a photograph and having a cigarette.”

On Tuesday , the court heard the hotel’s owners – Robert and Donald MacCallum and late partner, Janette MacCallum – had recognised the risk of benches sinking into grass and becoming unstable.

It also heard they failed to put in place suitable inspections and maintenance.

Sheriff Aitken was told Mr McGuire had gone outside the hotel at about 22:30 and sat back on the bench. The seat tipped backwards causing him to hit his head on the wall.

Mr McGuire was trapped between the 72kg bench and the wall, causing positional asphyxiation.

The hoteliers were facing a £21,000 fine, but it was reduced because they accepted full responsibility at the earliest stage.

Sheriff Aitken said: “It is a tragedy that this event occurred and in no sense is the penalty a reflection on the value of Mr McGuire’s life. 

“No-one can put a value on human life.”

Fiscal depute Roderick Urquhart told the court Mr McGuire went outside to take photographs and have a cigarette and never returned to his room.

Mr Urquhart said: “His wife retired to bed waking at approximately 00.30 noticing that her husband had not returned. She tried unsuccessfully to call him and then set about searching the hotel for him.

“She searched the building and then extended her search to the hotel grounds. She found him lying on his back with his head touching a nearby wall, in a seated position on a bench.”

Emergency services were called and the incident was later investigated by Environmental Health at Highland Council, Health and Safety Executive and police.

Defence solicitor Jaimie McGready told the court the hotel had previously identified a sinking risk to the cast iron benches and had embedded wooden blocks in the grass to try and stabilise them.

A risk assessment of the hotel and its grounds was also carried out by their insurers and the risk was not identified. 

He said: “The risk was not an obvious one, even to the experienced risk assessors. The hotel has now introduced increased staff training and are ensuring no guests are outdoors when the doors are locked.”

Mr McGready said the benches had been replaced with wooden ones placed on concrete slabs and maintenance records were being kept. 

He said: “This incident was an isolated one, devastating and a great shock for the family. The circumstances here are unusual and extremely rare.”