Belfast Telegraph

Troubled inferno death mum 'was in great form' the day of Lenadoon fire tragedy

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

A troubled west Belfast mother had vowed to "face the world with a smile" just hours before she perished in a house fire, an inquest heard yesterday.

The 45-year-old had been seen screaming for help by neighbours who made several frantic attempts to save her.

Mother-of-four Patricia Hetherington died from smoke inhalation from the blaze at her Lenadoon Avenue home just after midnight on April 4 this year.

The inquest heard that neighbour Jacqueline Short and her partner James Blake raised the alarm and were the first on the scene.

They were quickly followed by Mrs Hetherington's two sons who rushed home from a nearby pizza shop where they had been working.

Ms Short told the inquest she had seen Mrs Hetherington's face at the dormer window and heard her shouting: "Help me, help me."

She shouted back at her to try and get onto the roof while Mr Blake kicked in the door as he attempted twice to reach Mrs Hetherington.

A police officer also tried to reach Mrs Hetherington but all rescue attempts were thwarted by the immense heat and smoke from the fire. Coroner Suzanne Anderson found that the fire was accidentally caused by the "direct ignition of combustible materials", most likely started by Mrs Hetherington herself.

The inquest heard that the fire had started in her daughter's first floor bedroom at their home, however, her body was found in the top attic bedroom.

A post mortem showed that Mrs Hetherington had been heavily intoxicated at the time of her death, with 250mgs of alcohol in her system, over three times the legal amount allowed for driving.

Despite being under severe financial pressure as her home was being repossessed in a few weeks' time, Mrs Hetherington told neighbour Patricia Fitzsimmons that afternoon she was planning to "face the world with a smile".

Her daughter Lauren (14) gave evidence that her mother had been in "great form" earlier on the day she died, putting make-up on and doing her hair for the first time in weeks.

She had returned home after spending several hours drinking at a local bar.

Just before the fire started, her daughter had left the house to go round to her granny's house.

While the cause of the fire was not certain, both Fire Service and forensic investigation reports ruled out other possible causes such as an electrical fault, use of an accelerant, candles and cigarettes.

It was surmised that the later discovery of singed music score sheets belonging to the woman's estranged husband James, had been the work of Mrs Hetherington sometime earlier that day.

It was concluded that Mrs Hetherington probably attempted to burn similar materials in her daughter's bedroom before the fire got out of control.

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