May 23 2013 Latest news:
Ian Weinfass, Senior reporter
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
The cause of a fire which left one pensioner dead and her sister airlifted to hospital, has not been determined.
Betty Hussey, 83, died of asphyxia after to inhaling fumes from a fire in her house on Wednesday, February 22 last year.
Her sister Irene, 85, who lived in the same Elm Park address, told the inquest into Betty’s death at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court on Tuesday what she saw.
She said: “It was about 12 o’ clock, I had opened my back door to let my dogs out.
“I opened my front door and was going to open my porch but the draught from the back door closed the front door.
-Coroner Chinyere Inyama questioned representatives from Eon, UK Power Networks and the HSE about how companies delegate who is responsible for which components.
-The inquest heard that electricity companies do not have to check the quality of installation of meters in homes, as customers can frequently change suppliers – but that meter readers are trained to spot some potential problems.
-John Steed from the HSE also said he had concerns about how companies were prepared for the change to smart metering, which will lessen the need for meter readers to visit homes.
-When it was pointed out that customers can change energy supplier every three months so there were issues with checking the safety of meters of new customers, Mr Inyama replied: “It might prevent death, which I think is more of the issue here.”
Mr Inyama said he would be writing to the relevant parties, under coroner’s Rule 43, in order to lessen the risks of future death.
“The next thing I remember was that I was in hospital and it was Thursday evening.”
Fire investigator Barry Kent said that two passers-by attempted to rescue the sisters but were beaten back by “thick black smoke”.
When fire crews arrived, they entered the property, delivering Irene, unconscious, into the care of the ambulance service.
But emergency services were unable save Betty, who was found upstairs.
Mr Kent said that the fire had started under the stairs, most likely in or around the house’s electric meter.
He said that the damage to the cut out device attached to the meter meant that the cut out was the most likely source of the blaze.
But he admitted that other experts working on the investigation thought it was just as likely that the cause was a fault in the meter itself.
He added that there was a light switch in the cupboard which was found in an on position and could have blown – but that this was unlikely to be the cause of the fire.
John Steed from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said: “From the evidence I saw it was probably more likely that the fire originated from the top of the cut out.
“One of the signs was pitting (corrosion) and the melting of electrical connections.”
But he admitted that pitting could also have been caused if a fire had started away from the cut out and spread to it.
The inquest heard that the system of delivering and supplying electricity to people’s homes is done jointly by several different companies.
Eon were responsible for the meter in the Husseys’ house, while UK Power Networks were in charge of the cut out switch.
Meanwhile another company had actually installed the meter originally.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.