Belfast Telegraph

Riddle of the fire victim who had taken anti-freeze

By Nevin Farrell

Mystery surrounds how a woman ingested anti-freeze before she was fatally injured in an unexplained house fire.

Helen Philomena Richards (63) passed away at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital in November 2013, six days after a fire at her home in the Lettercreeve estate in Ballymena, an inquest heard yesterday.

Senior Coroner John Leckey ruled that Mrs Richards, who was married with no children, had died of multiple organ failure, caused by a combination of burns and a very high alcohol level. It was also found, however, that she she had ingested a substance like anti-freeze.

The inquest heard the Lettercreeve house was searched and there was no evidence of anti-freeze on the premises.

Mr Leckey, who passed on his sympathy, said an explanation for how the anti-freeze substance caused renal crystals in Mrs Richards "proved elusive".

Pathologist Dr Brian Herron said Mrs Richards had suffered extensive burns and smoke inhalation and also had crystals in her kidneys, along with an extremely high alcohol level, when admitted to hospital.

The alcohol level was more than five times the legal drink-drive limit. Dr Herron said the alcohol level was an "enormous" 430mgs and told the inquest a reading of 300 could cause death on its own.

He said it was felt that, on the balance of probabilities, the chemical in her kidneys was from anti-freeze, but he noted the house was searched and none was found.

Dr Herron said some times people took anti-freeze by mistake but that in some instances people take it on purpose to cause death.

He said there were clear vodka bottles in the kitchen of the Richards home and commented that sometimes alcohol bottles could be used to store something else.

Mr Leckey added that the exact cause of the bedroom fire could not be ascertained.

After the inquest, Mrs Richards' husband George, a retired quality manager, told the Belfast Telegraph: "There is still a lot of unexplained stuff about anti-freeze and I have been on and on at the police. The only place that I had anti-freeze was at the caravan at Benone for putting down the toilet during the winter."

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