Building 'failed' in fatal fire at Gibson Court, Hinchley Wood, that killed Irene Cockerton, inquest hears

This Is Local London: Irene Cockerton: The only person to die in the fire Irene Cockerton: The only person to die in the fire

Gibson Court residents were “let down” by the building after a fire ripped the roof space and destroyed flats within less than 90 minutes, an inquest heard.

The fire, in the early hours of September 30, 2011, was caused by a television in a first floor flat before spreading and causing the building’s roof to collapse on to flats at the Hinchley Wood development.

Epsom woman Irene Cockerton, 87, was the only person not to reach safety and was found by police and fire investigation teams the following day in her wardrobe.

A post-mortem examination stated Mrs Cockerton died from smoke inhalation, with a 98 per cent saturation of carboxyhemoglobin.

On the final day of evidence at Mrs Cockerton’s inquest, Bryn Strudwick, fire investigation manager at Surrey Fire and Rescue, told the court about a tape recording of a call to Careline, which showed how the fire developed.

He said: “You can hear Mrs Blair [flat occupant] moving out of the room and you can hear the fire developing around her and furniture falling around her. You hear her open the door and then that is when the fire alarm goes off [in her flat].

“She then opens the front door and then you can hear the smoke alarms going off in the corridor.”

Mr Strudwick explained the fire would have started by smouldering before spreading to other parts of the television, and then up the curtains and to the window of the flat.

He said: “You also get a lot of soot and smoke. As the fire develops and more things are set on fire, you get to a flash over. It is at that point the window fails. Once that has happened, you move into the realms of rapid fire spread.”

Mr Strudwick said the fire may have spread into the roof space, which was split into eight compartments with fire curtains.

But Mr Strudwick said the curtains failed to protect the building, with the whole roof ablaze within one hour and 20 minutes from the first 999 call.

He said: “I think if the curtains had been put up in the in the correct way and performed as they were designed to, I think we would have been looking at a slower fire spread along the roof.

“The evidence I have heard would lead me to say that almost definitely these fire curtains were not fitted correctly and were damaged.

“I would suggest that has to mean that the fire spread more rapidly. If they were correctly fitted, I would question what is the point of them if they are not going to slow the fire down.”

Coroner Richard Travers also questioned whether the “stay put” fire procedure was suitable in an environment with an increasing elderly population.

Mr Strudwick thought the biggest issue with the policy was the residents understanding of it, particularly for those who suffer from dementia.

During cross examination, Mark Watson, representing Peverel Retirement, said it should have been clear to firefighters there was a risk of the fire spreading into the roof space as they tackled the blaze from outside.

But Mr Strudwick said crews would have expected protection from the fire, in the form of fire walls, would have extended into the roof space and because this was not the case “everybody was let down by the building”.

Mr Travers is expected to deliver his conclusion in the coming weeks.

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