Woman, 89, died at scene of blaze in Barcombe Mills

Mill Farm, Barcombe Mills.
Mill Farm, Barcombe Mills.

An elderly woman died from the effects of smoke inhalation after an electrical fault caused a fire at her home, an inquest heard.

The coroner gave the conclusion 89-year-old Henrietta Brown died accidentally.

Mrs Brown lived at The Old Mill, Barcombe Mills, a remote rural property approached down a track. Her son William Brown lived just yards away, the inquest was told.

On the evening of December 13 last year he had followed his usual routine of making sure his mother was okay before going to bed.

When he woke up at 6am the next morning he discovered his home had no electricity. He went outside to check his fuse box and saw his mother’s house alight and fire engines approaching.

Mr Brown told firefighters where his mother was located in the house and they smashed a window to gain access to her bedroom. She was found lying on the floor with a torch in her hand which she had recently begun to use as an aid to getting around her home at night.

Attempts to resuscitate her at the scene proved unsuccessful.

The toxicology report stated that the haemoglobin level in Mrs Brown’s body was 38 per cent, consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning.

East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze was told that the electrical system in the house had been replaced after the floods in 2000 and that a fire alarm had been installed in 2012.

Fire Investigation Officer Mark Hobbs told the inquest the fire originated in the kitchen and concluded that the electrical fault that caused the blaze was accidental. In a corner of the room was a TV set, decoder, socket outlet and multi-way adaptor close to the main electrical intake.

An investigation carried out by UK Power Networks and insurers Hawkins concluded it was impossible to determine exactly which of the devices started the fire because they were so badly damaged.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service agreed that there was no evidence of the specific cause but the fire probably developed due to a high load of electrical current caused by the time switch on a night storage heater unit being drawn to the equipment.

Detective Sergeant Suzy Joseph said the alarm had been raised at 6.12am on December 14. East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service found extensive damage to the two-storey cottage with the roof badly affected, the stairs and the kitchen destroyed and the first floor windows blown out.

Seventy-five per cent of the property was damaged and the chimneys were unsafe and at risk of collapse in the aftermath of the blaze.