Belfast Telegraph

Belfast gran (85) died in blaze after dozing off while smoking, inquest told

The court heard from members of the emergency services who attended the fire and those who treated Nan in hospital (stock photo)
The court heard from members of the emergency services who attended the fire and those who treated Nan in hospital (stock photo)

By Christopher Leebody

An 85-year-old grandmother died in a fire caused when she fell asleep and dropped a cigarette, an inquest heard yesterday.

Annie Robinson, referred to as Nan at her family's request, had dementia but lived alone at her Donegall Avenue home in Belfast.

She was described as "fiercely independent".

The interior of the property was severely damaged in the fire, reported on the evening of May 30, 2018. The blaze was attended by four fire appliances.

Fire crews found Nan unconscious by her ground-floor bedroom door, where she had been overcome by smoke.

The court heard from members of the emergency services who attended the fire and those who treated Nan in hospital.

They included Watch Commander Les McAteer of the NI Fire and Rescue Service and Dr Joseph McKeever, who was on duty at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast that evening.

In a statement, Dr McKeever said Nan arrived at the emergency department at 18.11 in cardiac arrest and with "extensive burns to the face and limbs" and "soot" in her nose. The decision to stop treatment and declare a time of death was taken at 18.26.

Watch Commander Les McAteer referred to the investigation carried out by the Fire Service on June 14, 2018.

It noted the lack of any working smoke alarms in the home.

The report pointed to "several discarded cigarette butts lying around the bedroom" and highlighted burns on the carpet showing previous times when cigarettes had been dropped.

Coroner Mr Patrick McGurgan asked if there was a "need to renew our campaign", in regards to ensuring that all properties have working smoke alarms.

The inquest at Laganside Court, Belfast, was attended by Nan's daughter-in-law, Julie Robinson.

The inquest heard the retired domestic assistant was a social woman who "enjoyed standing at her front door and talking to passers-by".

Mrs Robinson said that the family would have visited Nan three times a week and that she did not want to be put in a home or have any social workers call in, saying: "Nan would have found it difficult for anyone else to come into the house."

Explaining the lack of smoke alarms, her daughter-in-law said "she just couldn't cope with the noise" because of her dementia.

Mrs Robinson added: "Although she had dementia, she was very happy."

The coroner concluded it was likely Annie Robinson had fallen asleep "sitting on the edge of the bed" while smoking a cigarette.

He acknowledged that smoking was "one of the few pleasures she had left", and the situation "probably was inevitable... given the amount of cigarettes in the house".

The coroner said he had been minded to hold the inquest to highlight the "prevalence of fatal fire deaths" in Northern Ireland.

He said he considered it was "an achievable target" to drive down the number of fire-related deaths to zero.

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