Pensioner lay helpless as smoke filled room

Irene Herring
Irene Herring

A BED-BOUND pensioner lay helplessly in her nursing home room as it filled with clouds of deadly smoke, a court heard.

Irene Herring, 85, died at the Conquest Hospital with her husband and son at her bedside, the day after a suspected arson attack in her top-floor bedroom.

Lewes Crown Court heard how care assistant Rebecca Reasbeck, 20, of London Road, St Leonards, started the fire at at Ancaster Court in Hastings Road, Bexhill, on February 1, 2009 so she could ‘act the heroine’ when she raised the alarm.

In a moving statement read in court, David Herring, now 87, said he used to visit his wife, who had dementia, every day from 11am to 7.30pm as her health slowly deteriorated.

But by the time he arrived that Sunday, the mother-of-five had already been rushed to hospital suffering from severe smoke inhalation, the court heard.

He said: ”Over the past few weeks her talking went from very inadequate, to very, very inadequate, and then to a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

“She never liked it when I left, and she would grab my finger and hold on.

“When I arrived at the home that morning a nurse told me there had been a fire and Irene had been taken to the Conquest Hospital.

“Peter [his son] and I sat with Irene until 6.30 the next morning, when she died. There was no reaction from her and she appeared to be unconscious.

“When the fire started in my wife’s room, she would have been absolutely unable to react to it. To clarify, she was completely helpless.”

The court heard council worker David met Irene, a medical secretary, at his brother Frederick’s house in Bexhill in July 1949.

The pair married the next year and lived in the area all their lives, having five sons and a daughter Mary, who tragically died aged six.

In 2007, Mrs Herring moved into Ancaster Court after being diagnosed with dementia and suffering a stroke.

Pathologist Peter Dureet told the court she died from pneumonia caused by smoke inhalation.

He said there was no evidence she had been smothered or attacked in any way.

Retired firefighter Graham Fletcher worked at Bexhill fire station at the time of the tragedy, although he was not on duty that day.

He told the court his daughter Stacey also worked at an assistant at the home, and he discussed the incident with her on the Sunday evening.

Mr Fletcher said when he returned to work on Tuesday, he heard the fire was being treated as arson because inspectors found the room had been lit in two separate spots, meaning it was unlikely to be an accident.

He said: “There was conversation around the station saying that is was now an arson fire. I heard that on the Tuesday when I got back to work.

“The reason they suspected it was arson was that there was more than one seat of fire.”

Reasbeck denies manslaughter.

The jury heard she is facing a re-trial after her original trial collapsed when a juror researched the case on the Internet.