Belfast Telegraph

'Mum's death in a house fire was only a matter of time'

By Anna Maguire

A pensioner died from smoke inhalation in a house fire she caused after carelessly disposing of matches or cigarettes, a coroner has said.

Lily Skates died from carbon monoxide poisoning following a blaze in the living room of her Victoria Crescent home in Donaghadee, Co Down.

The 75-year-old — who smoked up to 20 cigarettes a day — was found by her carer at 9am on October 18, 2011.

Patricia Pyper, a domiciliary care worker who had visited the widow for a number of years, said that it was common for her to lift matches from her floor.

She said: “Lily had a habit of throwing down the live matches if they did not work. She could not use lighters because of her hands.”

The inquest heard that Mrs Skates had suffered with mental illness for decades. She was diagnosed as bipolar two years before her death.

Julian Halligan, a forensic scientist who inspected the scene, said that the house was fitted with two fire alarms. He said: “The probable cause of the fire was the careless disposal of smoking materials, possibly matches.”

Senior Coroner John Leckey said the elderly mother-of-two died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the inhalation of smoke.

He said the cause of the fire was the careless disposal of smoking materials.

The victim’s son, Robert Skates — who presents Gospel Time and a daily show on Downtown Radio — told the inquest that he was not surprised when he arrived at her scorch-damaged bungalow on the morning she was found dead.

“I would have found matches and (cigarette) butts down the back of the sofa or on the floor. I (had) expressed concerns to carers,” said Mr Skates.

“My mother was a very vulnerable person.

“I did not want my mum detained, but ... if there was some sort of sheltered accommodation somebody may have been there to look after her.”

Six people aged over 60 have died in fires at their home in just over four weeks, between March and April of this year.

After the inquest, Mr Skates described his mother’s case as a ticking time bomb.

“Essentially she was just waiting there for a fire to die.

“I would call on the Health minister to make some form of assisted accommodation available for people — especially people with a history of mental illness.”

There are more than 300 mental health care packages available across all sectors in Northern Ireland currently. Health Minister Edwin Poots yesterday agreed that more accommodation is needed.

He said: “There needs to be a scope for organisations, including those within the independent sector, to promote and create a range of housing and care options.”

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said it could not discuss the case.

A spokeswoman added: “(We) would be willing to meet with her family to address any issues that they may have.”

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