Woman died after smoking in bed

PUBLISHED: 08:00 08 July 2010

A TRIBUTE has been given by the family of a 52-year-old disabled woman who died of severe burns in a fire at her home just days before Christmas.

Therese Murphy, known as ‘Terri’ to her friends and family, died at The Close, Great Dunmow, on December 19, 2008, after a ferocious blaze rapidly spread through the room where she was lying in bed.

Mrs Murphy had multiple sclerosis and was bedbound except for when hired carers or family were around to assist her movement to and from a chair.

On Tuesday, an inquest heard how a regular activity of smoking cigarettes in bed was the most likely cause of the fatal fire.

Forest Hall Care senior care assistant Jamie Clarke visited three times a day for over one year.

Giving evidence she described how Mrs Murphy would sometimes smoke in bed and that in the past she had found ash on the bed sheets and burn marks on her nightdress.

“She kept her daily newspaper, cigarettes, a lighter and a bottle of water on a table next to her bed. There was also a pile of magazines,” she said.

“She used to smoke whilst I was there but she was never smoking when I left the house.”

When asked to remember the day of the fire, she said: “She was her normal jolly self, but she had been feeling unwell. Her movement in her arms was not as good as usual – she was a bit weaker.”

Miss Clarke told coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray that she had urged Mrs Murphy to not smoke until she came back for an afternoon visit. She said that Mrs Murphy had replied “Yes maam” in a joking fashion.

Firefighters arrived eight minutes after the midday emergency call went out. They were forced to deal with intense flames and smoke.

Assistant divisional officer Vernon Kendall was a station officer at the time. Speaking at the inquiry, he said: “The intensity was surprising and the fire developed rapidly and then cooled down quickly.

“The magazines, papers and blankets were all ignitable and the window would have failed very early on – this would create a funnel effect like a horizontal chimney.”

Faulty electrics and foul play were ruled out following an investigation which started the day after at 9am.

Mr Kendall added: “It is likely she was smoking in bed and with her condition she would have had great difficulty in getting away from the fire.”

Mrs Beasley-Murray recorded a verdict of accidental death and gave her condolences to husband Kevin Murphy and 24-year-old son Kieran.

A statement from the family was read out by their solicitor. It read: “Terri was a happy and bubbly woman who will be sadly missed by us and her many friends in the community.”

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