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Mother tells of her agony at son's blaze death

By Claire Regan

A west Belfast mother described today how she tried in vain to save her toddler son after their bedroom went on fire in an accident.

A west Belfast mother described today how she tried in vain to save her toddler son after their bedroom went on fire in an accident.

Mary Rafferty wept as she recalled the horrific events which led to the death of her two-year-old son Nathan on July 28, 2004, after a blaze was accidentally started in a built-in bedroom wardrobe as his brother played with a lighter.

An inquest into the youngster's death, held at Belfast Coroners Court this morning, heard that he suffered 80% burns and died later that day in the intensive care unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Giving evidence, Miss Rafferty described how she usually slept with Nathan and her elder son Pearse, who was aged four at the time, in a double bed in the front upstairs bedroom of their home in Fort Street, off the Springfield Road.

She said she was woken that morning by a smoke alarm going off.

"I saw Pearse with the duvet cover in his hands and it was on fire," she said.

The grieving mother described how she panicked and ran downstairs to fill a bucket of water. But she was beaten back by dense smoke as she tried to run back up to tackle the blaze. She said she met her elder son as he made his own way down.

A police constable told the hearing a number of binmen passing outside had noticed smoke coming from the house and ran in to help.

They managed to locate Nathan, who was still in bed, and bring him out onto the street.

The officer also said he had been told that Pearse said he was "playing Scooby Doo in the cupboard with a lighter".

Miss Rafferty recalled that the ambulance called to the scene broke down after Nathan had been placed inside and he had to be removed and taken to hospital in the back of a police Land Rover.

Miss Rafferty and her son were also taken to hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

William Laverty, a fire officer from the Springfield Road station, was one of those who rushed to the scene. The trained first-aider administered oxygen and burns dressing to Nathan at the scene.

He said an examination of the bedroom, which was extensively damaged, concluded that the fire broke out in the bottom of the wardrobe and had been "started by a naked flame".

Senior forensic scientist Ken Arnold also examined the scene and concluded the fire had started accidentally in the wardrobe.

Reading from the pathologist's report, coroner Brian Sherrard said it concluded Nathan had died from 80% burns to his body.

When asked if the ambulance failing to start at the scene had had any impact on Nathan's chances of survival, Mr Sherrard said the pathologist's report said the toddler had "received appropriate and timely" treatment.

Stressing that no-one was to blame for the accident, he said: "There can be few things less upsetting than losing a much-loved child in such terrible circumstances.

"It is clear you (Miss Rafferty) did everything in your power but the fire was too great to get past. This was entirely accidental, there is no blame attached to anybody."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph