DEPRESSED WOMAN STARTED HOUSE FIRE IN WHICH SHE DIED

Date: Saturday 12th April 2003

A WOMAN who was suffering from depression died in a blaze at her Eden home which she started herself, an inquest heard.

Anne Carruthers, aged 64, of Helton Road, Askham, died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation on 5th July after starting the fire with a box of matches in a bedroom.

Coroner Ian Morton recorded an open verdict at the inquest in Carlisle on Thursday. He said Mrs. Carruthers was not a well woman, but he could not be sure of her intentions in starting the fire.

The inquest heard that she became depressed two to three years ago after having both her hips replaced. She was admitted as an inpatient at the Beacon Unit in Penrith because of the severity of her condition.

However, the family were greatly encouraged when she was released from hospital. She was fine while she was taking medication, but problems started again when she stopped taking the tablets.

Mrs. Carruthers’s husband, Colin, who was a farmer before retirement, returned home on 5th July to find the house full of smoke. He made an attempt to try and find his wife, but she was not in the room he thought she would be in. He could not see much as the house was full of smoke.

MISERABLE TIME

Mr. Carruthers told the inquest that his wife spent a lot of her time in bed. Before her hip replacement operations she lived a perfectly normal life.

Daughter Christine McAleese told the inquest that in the few months prior to her death her mother was having a pretty miserable time. She said it was “pure depression”.

Her condition was causing everybody a great deal of concern, but they were not worried that she might harm herself. The family felt that she should have gone back into hospital, but she never did. They did not want to force her to return.

Assistant divisional officer, Hugh McNaughton, of Cumbria Fire Service, said the initial 999 call was made just after 3pm by a neighbour who was gardening. Smoke was seen coming from the back of the house.

Crews from Penrith and Lazonby were called to the scene, and they had great difficulty in preventing Mr. Carruthers from going back into the house to continue searching for his wife.

Firefighters were told which bedroom Mrs. Carruthers was thought to be in, but it had an unusually high concentration of furniture and bags of clothes which made it extremely difficult to search.

Mrs. Carruthers was eventually found in another bedroom and she was taken downstairs to the waiting ambulance service, but treatment was unsuccessful. Three firefighters were injured during the operation, suffering burns to their necks, ears and the small of their backs due to the intense heat on the first floor landing.

An investigation into the fire found it had been concentrated in the bedroom where it was thought Mrs. Carruthers would have been. The room contained the remains of a wardrobe and a mattress which was made of a foam which would produce a large volume of highly toxic smoke.

There was a working smoke detector in the premises and no evidence of electrical faults was found.

Firefighters had difficulty finding an immediate cause of the fire until the investigation was nearly finished, the hearing was told.

A Lazonby firefighter opened the drawers of a dressing table and found one seat of fire which could have been made by a cigarette end or a match.

Mr. McNaughton said a box of matches was also found near the body. There was no reason why the matches should have been there because there were no candles or a gas fire. Two seats of fire were found in the dressing table and in a wardrobe.

Announcing his verdict, Mr. Morton said the smoke detector was in good working order and it would have sounded at a very early stage. But he said he could not say the fire was a pure accident.

“She lit these fires herself, at least two went out by themselves, but one took hold violently. That would have incapacitated her at a very early stage,” he said.