Claire Sheppey: Cigarette butts caused fire death of Canonbury 7/7 hero
PUBLISHED: 12:48 23 August 2016 | UPDATED: 13:17 23 August 2016
A hero doctor from the 7/7 response team died after discarding a cigarette in a plastic bag – causing a huge fire to rip through her Canonbury flat.
St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard this morning that Dr Claire Sheppey, who had been drinking, was never aware of the fire. She had fallen asleep and had no working smoke alarm.
The blaze, in Dr Sheppey’s Crowland Terrace flat in the early hours of March 16, began smouldering in her second floor living room about two hours before the flames emerged.
Fumes infiltrated her bedroom and she died of carbon monoxide poisoning after being rushed to Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel – the same hospital where she worked.
Dr Sheppey, 47, originally from Reading, joined the hospital in 2004 and worked as a consultant paediatric anaesthetist. She was one of the first on the ground responding to the July 2005 London bombings.
Fire investigator Dean Wilkinson said: “Around the sofa bed were a number of plastic bags containing cigarette butts and empty packets. This caused the fire to start. It started slow and smouldering, which developed into flames.
“It was very heavy smoke. You wouldn’t have even been able to see your hand in front of your face.” Mr Wilkinson estimated it would have been two hours before it developed into a full fire.
Dr Sheppey did not suffer any skin burns. She was found unconscious in her bedroom by firefighters. The court heard she had 193 milligrams of alcohol per decilitre of blood. Drunkenness is defined as 100mg.
Coroner Mary Hassell concluded accidental death, and warned of the importance of smoke alarms.
She said: “It’s important for public safety that everyone who hears about this fire understands that no smoke detection was a factor.”
Ms Hassell added: “Dr Sheppey had been smoking, but didn’t discard the cigarette properly before going to bed. A very slow, smouldering fire began. The fumes would have been very toxic. It seems to me she fell asleep and was never aware of the fire.”
The Fire Brigades Union had speculated Dr Sheppey’s death could have been linked to the closure of Kingsland Road Fire Station, 1.35km away, in 2014.
The first crews to arrive were from Islington Fire Station in Upper Street, 1.24km away. They were mobilised at 1.38am and took four minutes and 12 seconds to arrive at the scene. The London Fire Brigade target for each incident is six minutes.
The court heard Kingsland Road’s closure had “no significant impact” on the incident.
Ms Hassell said: “I covered this because I knew an issue had been raised on response times, so I wanted to bottom it out.”