Fatal St Leonards house fire started accidentally with a cigarette

Firefighters at the scene of the blaze in Battle Road on August 19, 2018
Firefighters at the scene of the blaze in Battle Road on August 19, 2018

A devastating St Leonards house fire which caused the death of a woman and her dog was started accidentally with a cigarette, an inquest heard.

Mandy Tanner, 61, died at her home in Battle Road, St Leonards, on August 19, 2018.

She was bed-bound due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and diabetes, an inquest, held in Hastings on Tuesday (June 11), heard.

At approximately 8am on the morning of her death, Ms Tanner had been smoking from her bed on the ground floor of the semi-detached house, the court was told.

Fire investigator Andy May told the court it was most likely Ms Tanner had fallen asleep while smoking, causing the lit cigarette to ignite her bedding.

He said the fire would have been spread by the presence of oxygen cylinders, oxygen in her airflow mattress, and emollient cream – used to treat dry skin conditions – which had come off her body and soaked into the bedding.

The court was told Ms Tanner had been advised of the dangers of smoking near to the oxygen cylinders, which were used to aid her respiratory problems.

However, her family said she had not been warned of the danger posed by the emollient cream.

The court was read a statement by Ms Tanner’s son Mark Bilsby who had been in the house when the fire broke out.

The taxi driver said he had been working into the early hours of August 19 and had got home at about 4am where he fell asleep at around 5.30am.

He told the court he was woken at 8.30am by a smell similar to ‘really burnt toast or burning plastic’ and noticed smoke coming in over the top of his first-floor bedroom door.

After being unable to get down the hallway, Mr Bilsby said he got to the window where he saw a man attempting to gain access to the house.

He said he shouted down to the man who advised him to throw out a duvet so they could catch the dogs.

By this time, Mr Bilsby said the room had been filled by thick black smoke. He said a ladder appeared at the window and a firefighter helped him climb down it backwards before he slumped onto the ground.

He said he was first made aware his mum had died when a policeman told him they would be making an appeal in the press following the death of a woman in the house fire.

Giving a conclusion of accidental death, senior coroner for East Sussex Alan Craze said: “To some extent it was a preventable accident.”

Addressing the family, he added: “Can I express to you all, my own condolences and sympathies.”

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