A young mum-of-two who was suffering from mental health problems and whose children had been taken into care died after deliberately starting a fire in her home, three years after neighbours rescued her from a similar incident.
Troubled Katrina Rose Black (21) died on October 27th last year after fire ripped through her terraced home in Manchester Road, Hapton. She had made several calls to friends asking them to come round shortly before starting the blaze in the living room.
An inquest at Burnley Coroner’s Court heard how Miss Black, known as “Rosie,” had been admitted to hospital several times in the months before her death after taking overdoses of medication.
In a statement read to the court, her psychotherapist Julie Stirpè said Miss Black suffered a severe deterioration in her mental state after she became pregnant and had a termination. She was also struggling to stay drug and alcohol free for the sake of her children.
On the night of her death, she made four desperate phone calls to ex-partner Anthony Ashworth, asking him to visit her. He was at work but was so concerned about her he left his shift early to see her. Miss Black also made calls to friend Christopher McNaul who went round to her home around 10-30pm to find the building on fire and smoke billowing out.
Mr McNaul told the inquest: “I saw a flickering light through the window, I thought it might be a candle. I knew there was someone inside, there was thick, black smoke pouring out. I called 999 and tried to kick the back door in and I could hear Rosie’s voice inside shouting for help.
“She couldn’t get downstairs because there were flames on the stairs. I shouted to her to get out of the bedroom window if she could.”
The inquest heard from firefighters who attended the scene. The hearing was told fire crews were initially sent to Manchester Road, Burnley, causing a slight delay, but the coroner said this did not affect the outcome of the incident.
Crew manager Andy Coulton, from Burnley Fire Station, said the blaze was well developed when they arrived.
He said the staircase acted as a chimney and an open window upstairs allowed the fire to take hold and spread quickly. Miss Black was found dead upstairs.
Fire investigator and watch manager Paul Dunn said an investigation revealed Miss Black had deliberately set fire to a pile of plastic toys, disposable nappies, clothes and cardboard boxes in the living room.
Police launched an investigation into Miss Black’s death after the fire. DC John McNamara told the inquest Miss Black had to be rescued from her home in Gannow Lane, Burnley, in 2010, in a similar incident and spent four days in intensive care. Pathologist Dr Philip Lumb gave the cause of death as inhalation of the products of combustion.
East Lancashire Coroner Mr Richard Taylor recorded a narrative verdict and said he could not be sure beyond all reasonable doubt she intended to take her own life.
“Because of the timings of the phone calls I really believe Rosie expected and wanted to be found. No one can predict the spread of fire. She would have had no idea of the speed with which that fire would spread, especially with the upstairs open window and the failed front door, allowing the fire to feed off the oxygen.
“When I asked the watch manager Mr Dunn he said it would take a matter of minutes for the fire to take hold. Dr Lumb said collapse and death following inhalation of smoke can be very rapid with unconsciousness developing after only a few breaths.”