Elderly woman may have accidentally set fire to herself with cigarette at home in Barnoldswick

Burnley Magistrates' Court
Burnley Magistrates' Court
Share this article

An elderly woman died at home in Barnoldswick after accidentally setting fire to herself, believed to be from a lit cigarette.

An inquest at Burnley Coroner's Court heard how Mrs Kathleen Hargreaves (78) died at her home in Essex Street on the afternoon of December 19th last year.

The inquest heard how concerns had been raised by Mrs Hargreaves' family and GP with Social Services due to early signs of dementia, but that she and her carer husband Derek had refused most offers of help.

Described as a heavy smoker, Mrs Hargreaves was alone in her home around 4-30pm when the accident happened, shortly before her husband returned home to find the living room filled with smoke.

Fire investigation officer Michael Ancram told the hearing that the fire had been confined to a small area of the living room where Mrs Hargreaves was found, near to a large number of discarded cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays.

He said: "We found a small burn area in front of a coffee table. We cannot rule out a cigarette as being the cause of the fire. Although we don't know exactly it is possible that a dropped smouldering cigarette ignited Mrs Hargreaves' clothing or a naked flame from the cigarette."

The inquest heard at this point that Mrs Hargreaves had got into the habit of throwing cigarettes down that were already lit, and that this may have been due to early dementia.

Dawn Blackburn, team manager at Adult Social Care for the Pendle area, told the hearing that it had received concerns from Mrs Hargreaves' son who had returned home from Australia over whether his parents were fit to look after themselves.

Mrs Blackburn said: "We have no powers to intervene unless we have concerns that the person has no capacity to think for themselves. We initially wrote and phoned Mr and Mrs Hargreaves but had no response.

"We understood that they lived in their home for a long time and it was really important to them. We contined to try and make contact after concerns were raised by Mrs Hargreaves' sister about her memory. Mr Hargreaves always intimated he was not in any need of support."

The inquest that Mr Hargreaves eventually agreed a referal to the Telecare alarm system, but sadly this was just two days before the accident.

Recording a conclusion of accidental death, Coroner Mr Richard Taylor said: "Sadly we can never answer what ifs in inquests, although I hope the family have had some questions answered. There was a reluctance on the part of Mr Hargreaves to have involvement from outside agencies and social services cannot enforce themselves on people."