Family: Romford mum's treatment before fire death was 'akin to torture'
- Credit: Gary Parkin / Charles Thomson
The family of a woman found dead after a Romford house fire has likened her treatment before the blaze to “torture”.
A hearing over the death of Rosslyn Wolff, 74, heard her relatives have asked a coroner to investigate whether she was failed by Havering Council and the NHS.
The local authority and North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) have both said they will fully cooperate with the inquest and were "deeply saddened" by the death.
Mrs Wolff was found dead at her home in Myrtle Road after firefighters were called in the early hours of January 11.
Her son Gary Parkin said he believed his mother was suffering from dementia but alleged she was left to fend for herself.
An inquest, due to begin on Thursday, July 7, was postponed because reports had not yet been produced by the Met Police, London Fire Brigade or the NHS.
NELFT is compiling a “serious incident investigation” report, which it said would be completed by July 29.
Coroner Graeme Irvine meanwhile ordered the Met and the fire brigade to turn in their reports within seven days.
A preliminary police report said there was nothing to suggest third-party involvement in the fire.
- 1 'Outstanding'-rated Romford nursery granted approval for extension to create ‘beautiful new space’
- 2 Person taken to hospital in New Road 'devil's corner' crash
- 3 'Significant area of grassland' destroyed in Havering fire
- 4 Wildlife photographer captures Havering deer as part of photo series
- 5 Gallows Corner Tesco: Appeal for 87-home development dismissed by inspector
- 6 Turtle Bay to open in Romford to bring 'magic of the Caribbean' to town
- 7 Man charged with attempted murder after 23-year-old stabbed in Hornchurch
- 8 ULEZ expansion in Havering slammed as 'punitive tax'
- 9 Petition aims to save 'very well loved' independent Romford shops from demolition for flats
- 10 Brentwood school receives 'good' Ofsted rating after eight years of 'requires improvement'
The fire brigade said it would not publicly reveal the cause of the fire until the inquest – which, the court heard, could be another five months away.
“It’s been six months’ worth of hell,” Mr Parkin told the Recorder of the wait so far.
Mr Parkin alleged his mother lived for years in squalor as her mental health deteriorated.
“She wasn’t able to look after herself,” he claimed after Thursday’s hearing.
“There was human excrement on the floor. Mice. Rats. There was rubbish. Food containers. It was piled high.”
But, said Mr Parkin, his mother refused all help.
He claimed he had repeatedly contacted Havering Council, responsible for adult social care in the borough.
“I kept raising and raising and raising concerns because she was losing weight,” said Mr Parkin. “She was like a skeleton by the last few weeks.”
“She refused a care package,” Mr Parkin said. “But she wasn’t well.”
Mr Parkin told this paper he believes his mother was treated as being capable of making important decisions about her own care, despite showing symptoms of dementia and being sectioned due to her failing mental health.
He claimed he had since been told by investigators that his mother was never actually given a capacity test.
Mrs Wolff’s family has made several requests, Mr Irvine told the court, including that the inquest be held before a jury.
The coroner said while he had not made a final decision, he did not feel the threshold for a jury inquest had been met.
But he did agree to hold another pre-inquest review to hear submissions on whether the inquest should consider Article Two of the European Convention of Human Rights, which places a duty on the state to protect life.
Article Two inquests are more detailed and can reach "judgemental" conclusions.
They are usually restricted to deaths which occur while a person is detained in a prison or a hospital, but there is precedent for Article Two inquests to investigate deaths in the community following discharge by a medical authority.
More unusually, Mrs Wolff’s family asked for the inquest to consider whether Article Three has also been breached.
Article Three prohibits torture and inhumane or degrading treatment.
Mr Irvine said he “very much understood” the request.
“[Mr Parkin] feels that the treatment that Mrs Wolff had in her life was akin to torture and at the very least was inhumane,” he said.
But, he added: “The duty of the state to prevent inhumane treatment is not something that has been determined to have an effect upon the management of an inquest.”
Havering Council said: “We were deeply saddened to hear of Ms Wolff’s tragic death and our sympathies continue to go out to her family and friends.”
The local authority added it had provided information to the coroner and would “participate fully” in the inquest, but would not comment further in the meantime.
NELFT said it was “deeply saddened” by Mrs Wolff’s death and extended its condolences to her loved ones.
“We are cooperating fully with the coroner’s independent investigation and inquest,” it said.
No inquest date has yet been set.