THE DEATH of a teenage girl in a fire at a care home near Ellesmere last December was accidental, a coroner has ruled.
But lessons should be learned from the incident, according to Mr John Ellery, Senior Coroner for Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin.
Kelly Louise Button died in the fire which she started in her bedroom at the Bagley Marsh registered children’s care home in the early hours of December 16, last year.
A post mortem revealed the 17-year-old died of smoke inhalation.
The hearing at Wem Council Chamber last Tuesday, was told that Miss Button, originally from Walsall, had been in the care of Walsall Social Services for two years prior to her death, moving to the home run by Bryn Melyn Care in October 2012.
But it was also told that Miss Button had a history of setting fire to items and an assessment – which stated that she was a “significant risk” regarding this and should not have lighters in her possession – had not been signed by key members of staff.
John Griffiths, Fire Investigation Officer for Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, said he was unable to confirm the ignition source. He confirmed that in the room there were five cigarette lighters and a plugged-in hair dryer that could have been used to start the fire.
He also said a mattress had been put against the door, with a quilt, clothing and papers at the foot. He said this was were the fire had started, adding that “the fire would have grown quickly”.
Paula Stam, who had been the teenager’s Residential Care Worker in the year leading up to her death said on the night of the fire Miss Button had been using an internet dongle but became aggressive when she was told to return it. She had also put a message on social networking site, Facebook two hours before she died saying she had “had enough” and wanted to “burn down” the care home.
She said: “I heard her [Miss Button] say ‘Paula, I’m going to start a fire and don’t think I won’t f***ing do it’.”
The hearing then heard that the fire alarms sounded and along with residential child care worker, Cecil Chambers, Miss Stam had used fire extinguishers and tried in vain to access the room, but a mattress was against the door. They also tried to find ladders to help Miss Button escape and told her to leave the room.
Breaking down in tears, Miss Stam added: “She had so much to look forward to. We had agreed for her to go home at Christmas, she had two nephews on the way, she definitely would not have [committed suicide]. She could be reckless, but never this.”
Justine Staples, Residential Care Manager at Bryn Melyn, confirmed she had produced the fire risk assessment, but that due to the level of care she was receiving, Miss Button could not be searched and neither could her room.
She said: “I’m surprised that she had five lighters [in her room]. I went into her room anytime I went into the house and I never saw a lighter. If I had reason to think she had them I would have acted on it.”
Referring to the risk assessment form, Ms Staples said the time Miss Button moved to Bagley Marsh was “chaotic” as some staff refused to work with her and she had to find cover. She said: “It was overlooked and I should have picked up on it.”
She also said that it had not been mentioned in a communications book between staff, but that system had now been changed.
“I never thought she would have done anything like that,” Ms Staples added.