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Mother weeps as baby’s harrowing death is recalled

A young Fermanagh mother accused of the death of her baby daughter in a fire allegedly started by her toddler brother wept in court as it was revealed that the infant had been “burnt to death”.

The woman, Charmaine Agnew (26) of Drumbawn, Enniskillen, and her former boyfriend, 25-year-old William McLaughlin of Florence Square, Belfast, deny manslaughter, by gross negligence, after eight-month-old Chelsea Agnew died on August 4, 2007.

A forensic scientist, Julian Halligan, who carried out a reconstruction of the blaze, said that the infant would have “died quickly” and agreed with defence SC Philip Magee, that her foldaway travel cot would also quickly have “become a flaming inferno”, generating temperatures “ten times that of boiling water”.

A DVD was shown of a reconstruction of the blaze which claimed baby Chelsea's life, showing that the infant had no chance of surviving.

However, so harrowing was the recording that it was played to Dungannon Crown Court in the absence of Chelsea's mum and former lover.

Mr Halligan revealed the reconstruction was carried out in the bedroom in which Chelsea lost her life, using duplicate materials.

On the DVD, Mr Hilligan was seen lighting the bottom corner of the cot with a disposable lighter, which he leaves on the floor before exiting the room.

Within seconds, flames are seen licking their way up the side of the cot, devouring the material as it goes, while casting off small strips of burning fabric to the floor.

Visibility within the room begins to dim, as black, acrid toxic-looking smoke begins to rise, the fire itself soon becoming a blurred pulsating glow in the background of the TV screen.

Within four minutes of the blaze being initially struck, the fabric of the cot had all but disintegrated.

Beforehand, Agnew and McLaughlin appeared stunned and dazed as they heard that nothing could have been done for Chelsea as she “was too badly burned”.

The first of the police on the scene that Saturday morning told how they were “forced to retreat” by the smoke and heat, despite turning a fire extinguisher at the “glow of the fire”, as they attempted to find the infant.

The court then heard that when the fire service arrived, two of the crew were already “masked-up” with breathing apparatus and immediately went to the bedroom, crawling on their hands and knees the last few feet. Firefighter Micheas Curran said that “visibility was practically zero” although he could see “some fire pulsating” in the bedroom, which he doused with a five to ten second burst of water from his hose.

He said that he and fireman Vance, despite the impenetrable smoke, then carried out a “left-hand search” of the bedroom and eventually found the cot, “but unfortunately the cot was empty”.

The firefighter said it was during a second sweep when they uncovered the “seat of the fire and found the child on the floor”.

Mr Curran said he reported finding the infant, but that she was too badly burned.

At hearing.

Belfast Telegraph