Family: Romford mum's treatment before fire death was 'akin to torture'

Gary Parkin and Rosslyn Wolff and a burnt sofa

Gary Parkin (inset, top) wants a coroner to investigate whether his mother Rosslyn Wolff (inset, below) died in a house fire due to alleged failures - 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.

Rosslyn Wolff

Rosslyn Wolff was found dead after the London Fire Brigade was called to a fire at her home in Myrtle Road, Harold Hill, on January 11, 2022 - Credit: Gary Parkin

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.

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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. 

Photo of Rosslyn Wolff's home in Myrtle Road after a house fire

A photograph taken inside Mrs Wolff's home after the fire - Credit: Gary Parkin

Hell

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.”

Inside Rosslyn Wolff's home before she died

Gary Parkin shared a photograph of the inside of his mother's home before she died, showing piles of paper and other items all over her living room - Credit: Gary Parkin

“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.

'Torture'

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.

Gary Parkin outside the East London Coroners Court in Barking

Rosslyn Wolff's son Gary Parkin attended a pre-inquest review at Barking Adult College, Ripple Road, on Thursday, July 7 - Credit: Charles Thomson

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.”

Responses

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.