Fatal fire caused by cigarette in Islington ‘slum’

An alcoholic living in “slum-like” conditions died in a fire caused by her smoking – two days after concerns were raised with social services about her welfare.

Karen Hanks, 49, was killed by smoke inhalation after a blaze started by a cigarette or discarded match broke out at her home in Highbury Station Road, Islington, on January 24, an inquest heard on Monday.

Ms Hanks had suffered from alcohol dependency and depression since 1989

Gas engineer Andrew Kitson was called to a leak at her home two days before she died.

He said: “I looked through the window and saw a female lying on a mattress.

“The condition of the room was like a slum, with rubbish and empty bottles everywhere.

“I banged on the window and woke her. She was staggering about. I was shocked, her condition was pitiful.”

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She told Mr Kitson she had no family and he informed passing police officers of her state before phoning social services to tell staff about her condition – but she died before anyone could help.

The inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard how firefighters broke through the door of Ms Hanks’ flat after neighbours noticed smoke escaping from above the front door.

They found her lying on the floor in a severely fire-damaged room and she could not be saved.

Jamie Lovell, a paramedic for the London Ambulance Service, said: “She was sat against a chair in the living room with extensive burns to her body.

“The temperature had been so hot in the room, items had melted, including the television.”

Michael Boyle, from the fire investigation team, said: “I am certain it was either a cigarette or a discarded match. I can’t definitely say which, but it is most likely a cigarette.”

A post-mortem examination found soot in Ms Hanks lungs and stomach, and the cause of death was smoke inhalation with alcohol abuse as a contributory factor.

The amount of alcohol in her blood was more than four times the drink-driving limit.

Assistant deputy coroner Gail Elliman recorded a verdict of accidental death.