Hulland Ward Fire

21 December 2011, 16:39

A mum whose four children died in a house fire in Derbyshire has said an inquest which found that their lives could have been saved with better fire prevention systems was a ``very fair hearing''.

Rachel Henson lost her children - nine-year-old Tommy, six-year-old Alisha, Rocco, four, and Appolonia, two - when a fire engulfed their home in Hulland Ward on January 24.

Following an inquest at Derby Coroner's Court, South Derbyshire Coroner Robert Hunter ruled that, had a fire guard been in place around the family's open fire and smoke detectors been functioning, their lives could have been saved.

Speaking after the hearing, a tearful Ms Henson, who managed to escape from the blaze in Highfield Road, said: ``There's some important points that we ought to deal with - smoke alarms and fire guards - and it's just been a very distressing time.''
Ms Henson refused to comment when asked by reporters how she managed to get out of the house on the night of the fire.

In her evidence to the inquest, she said she had been in Appolonia's upstairs bedroom with Tommy and managed to get the window open before falling through, without taking any of the children with her.
She said she landed uninjured in the back garden before running for help.

But evidence from Chris Smith, of Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, said forensic examinations of the house after the fire revealed that none of the windows had been opened.

Commenting before he delivered his ruling, Mr Hunter said: ``Ms Henson's description is graphic and believable but based on the evidence heard at the inquest, I'm not able to say with any degree of confidence, not even to the balance of probabilities, what were the means by which Ms Henson was able to leave the property.''

Delivering a narrative verdict into each of the children's deaths, he added: ``The absence of a fire guard and the removal of, and non-function of, a smoke detector were contributing factors in these deaths.''


Mr Hunter said he was satisfied from evidence that the fire had been started by a damp log being put on smokeless coals on the fire, which burn at a very high temperature.

Evidence given to the inquest by a chimney engineer showed that the moisture content in the logs used by Ms Henson was over the usual acceptable level, which caused the water inside them to boil and the wood to split open.
Hot pieces of wood or embers were spat out and were the cause of the fire, Mr Hunter said. If a fire guard had been in place they would never have come into contact with combustible materials. Had working smoke alarms been in the house, Ms Henson and all four children would have had time to escape, he added.

Mr Hunter said he would be using his powers as coroner to write to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to raise concerns about logs being sold as ``seasoned'' when they were in fact too moist. He said: ``Larger suppliers of these logs do season their logs but smaller suppliers do not.``I feel this is a Trading Standards issue as the public are being misled by dealers who pass off unseasoned logs as being seasoned.''

Mr Hunter passed on his condolences to Ms Henson and her family, saying he could not imagine losing four children in such tragic circumstances, and added that he hoped the wider public would take notice of the issues raised during the inquest, especially around this time of year when tealights and Christmas lights are common in households.

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