Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Family of blaze death OAP want brave cops honoured

The family of of a 90-year-old widow who died after a blaze at home have called for the George Medal to be awarded to police officers who pulled her from the house.

Grandmother-of-seven Margaret Henry died in hospital the day after she was taken from her smoke-engulfed house at Laburnum Green in Belfast.

The retired seamstress was semi-conscious when she was dragged into her front garden shortly after 5am on March 14.

Coroner John Leckey, presiding over Mrs Henry’s inquest, said he intended to write to PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to recommend six officers involved in her rescue for a bravery award.

The family have said they want the officers to be given the George Medal, given to civilians for acts of great bravery.

Officers forced their way into the house, grabbing cloths from the kitchen to cover their mouths, before taking turns to crawl through a wall of acrid black smoke, the inquest was told.

Constable Colin Parkes pulled a chair lift from a wall at the top of stairs which was blocking them from the pensioner.

“I crawled past thick black smoke,” he told the inquest.

“I felt a hand or a foot, which was black and twisted. I heard her struggling to breathe.

“I managed to get a hold and drag the person to myself.”

Shouting to colleagues that he had found someone, he fell down the stairs, coughing violently outside the house before re-entering. The pensioner was trapped under her Zimmer frame and a duvet.

Constable Daniel Thompson and Constable David Boyd managed to drag the woman from the house at around 5.30am.

Constable Thompson said: “I managed to grab the female by her left arm and Constable Boyd grabbed her right arm. Together we pulled the female downstairs. She was black with smoke and appeared to have suffered burns to her upper body.”

The inquest heard that the Belfast widow — who suffered from existing conditions, including emphysema and severe heart disease — sustained five per cent burns to her body.

Family GP Dr Carl J Cummings said: “She was a gentle lady who was fiercely independent. She was one of the old school.”

Alison Slater, Mrs Henry’s granddaughter, said the bravery of the six police officers involved in the rescue meant her “nanny” was surrounded by her children and grandchildren when she died.

“She did not die in the hallway of her house, so we are eternally grateful to them,” she said.

Coroner Leckey added: “I will write to the Chief Constable and I will express my own views that what they did was extremely brave and that their actions are worthy of some form of recognition.”

He said the fire — which was recorded as accidental — was caused by an electrical fault in a four-socket extension lead in Mrs Henry’s bedroom.

A duvet cover, which attached to the pensioner as she tried to escape, caused a secondary fire at the top of the stairs.

Mr Leckey added: “The cause of her death was burns and smoke inhalation... and ischaemic heart disease, emphysema and right heart failure.”

After the inquest Mrs Henry’s son Paul said: “How the police did what they did.

“Something should be done for them (for their bravery), like a George Medal.”

Background

The fire at Margaret Henry’s home on March 14 was the fourth serious blaze in Northern Ireland in a week. Mrs Henry died in hospital a day after the fire. On March 13, Peggy McGarvey (78) died after flames engulfed her Linseys Hill bungalow in Armagh. The previous Tuesday Sadie Ferguson (78) died in a house fire in Dromara, Co Down. Later that night (March 6), in Co Antrim, Albert Kane (64) died near Dervock. At the time the Ambulance Service praised the police officers who saved Mrs Henry.

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