Bereavement due to traumatic death

Fire related deaths

A few people we talked to had lost someone in a fire. Karen’s mother died in 2007 when her house caught fire. How the fire started is unclear; the coroner concluded it was an accidental death.

Karen's mother's house was on fire. Karen went there in the middle of the night, but learnt that...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
Well my Mum died, my sister rang me from Somerset to say that my niece had rung her to say that there’d been a house, that there was a fire at my Mum’s house, and that was at quarter past three in the morning. Bearing in mind I’m on call every night, so I was sort of like okay. I got my husband out of bed, my daughter was still living with us at the time, so I woke her, because I thought just in case anyone comes from there to here, so I woke her and said, “Oh I understand there’s a problem with Nanny, so that’s where I’m going.” Left her here with the dog, and off we went, and driving down to my Mum’s house, which isn’t that far from us, um, we couldn’t see, because obviously it was still dark, and they’d closed part of the road off so we pulled up. And my husband parked in the car park opposite my Mum’s house, and I just got out the car and went and found a young copper on the corner, and said to him, “Um, I understand my Mum’s still inside.” And he was like, “Well who are you?” I said, “Well it’s my Mum’s house, so it’s makes me the daughter.” And he didn’t know what to say. He just said, “Well wait there I’ll get someone more senior.” So I knew straight away, and another officer just came over and he just stood there. And I said, “Well did you get her out or not?” Because obviously my sister had said on the phone all my niece had said was that they couldn’t get her out, and she didn’t know what was going on, obviously at that time in the morning. So I asked him and he, his face, he didn’t have to say anything else. His face said it, and I didn’t think he, once they actually confirmed that they couldn’t get her out. That it just, it was just left, sort of like hanging, I mean I knew.
Alison’s young children and her estranged husband died in a fire; Alison was away at the time. The coroner ruled that Alison’s daughter's body was so badly “fire damaged” that the cause of death remained uncertain, though she had died before the fire started because she had not inhaled any fumes. The coroner also ruled that Alison’s son was unlawfully killed. He survived a knife attack and strangulation, but died in the fire fumes. Had Alison's husband lived he would have been charged with murder.
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In the middle of the night Alison heard that the house where her children and estranged husband...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
And then my sister came in and said, “Mum’s on the phone, she’s got some good news for you, you’ve got the kids back”, which was a day earlier than had been arranged. And I thought, “Oh brilliant.” So I texted a friend of mine to say that I’d got the kids back and she was like, “Great”, who was actually my next door neighbour of that house. And got the train back that night, got in at half past ten. My dad picked me up from the train station and I noticed the car seats in the back, the baby seats in the back. And I said, “What’s happened?” And he said, “Your husband taken the kids home”. So I texted my sister very angry, saying “He’s got the kids.” And she texted me back saying, “Yes, for this night but then tomorrow you’ll have them back.”
Did you have two at that stage?
No, I had three children but two days previous my youngest had been taken rather ill and my mum decided to bring him back to stay with her and my dad.
So that they could look after him whilst they weren’t at my husband’s place.
So two were with your husband?
Yes. So my eldest two were still with my husband, and they’d gone back. So I got to bed about midnight that night which was the 3rd June 2007. About 15 minutes later the telephone rang and I jumped up because it’s very unusual for anyone to call so late.
And it was my next door neighbour. She said something to my dad, my dad shot out of bed, ran off. My mum started screaming about the children. I picked up the phone and she said, “Ali, your house is on fire.” And I said, you’ll have to excuse this but I said, “Well what the fuck are you calling me for, call the fire brigade.”
So my mum is continuously screaming, “The children the children.” I’m telling her to calm down, because my youngest is asleep in the front room.
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Alison went to her house, and then waited in the pub for news of her children. She did not know...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
And then I drove into the town, drove down to where my house was. There were lights everywhere… fire brigade, ambulance, police. I stopped the car in the middle of the road, jumped out, threw my keys at a police officer I saw. And two people came up walking over to me, one was a neighbour over the hedge and the other one was the landlord of the pub that I used to work in. And the look on their faces told me it weren’t good.
So two police officers came over and told me to sit down, which when they insist that you sit down, you know it’s not good news.
So I got really pissy with them and just said, “Just tell me.” And they said that they’d recovered a body of an adult male, deceased. I said, “Good.” And they’d recovered the body of a child who’s been taken to hospital. I said, “Boy or girl?” And they said, “We can’t tell you that at this time.” So I went mad and tried to get in the house. But they wouldn’t let me. They restrained me and sent me off down to the local pub. And I know now that I had a sort of family liaison type person to stay with me.
But I can tell you at that time I didn’t realise that there was anyone keeping an eye on me.
I went in the pub. They said that they would come down to tell me what was happening, who had you know which of my children had been taken in the ambulance … whether he was a she or a he or whether he was alive or dead or what.
Did you have friends with you?
Yes. I called my sister, told her to get in the car. And that one of them was dead but not to say anything to mum, not to call her on the phone until she gets there, tell her face-to-face.
But I couldn’t tell her which one. I then called the man I’d been seeing who was away on holiday, and said, “Can you please come home?”
And then, called my best friend from about age eight. But she didn’t answer either. I just left a message saying, “Come home,” because she lives up in London.
How did you react to that terrible news, I mean… you were sent to the pub?
I was pretty much okay because I was still very, very “that can’t be right”.
I was very, very mad that they couldn’t tell me boy or girl, because it was obvious to me.
They kept saying they would come down and update me but they never did. So eventually I called the hospital. And I said, “Look you’ve had a little, a child brought in that’s been in a house fire.” I said, “I don’t know if it’s my boy or my girl.”
And they said, “There was a little boy about six.” And I said, “He’s not six, he’s nearly fucking eight.”
And he said, “Who’s with you?” And they tell me this over the phone. They haven’t even asked for any like sort of ID or anything like that. “Who’s with you?” And I said, “He’s dead as well isn’t he?” And they said, “Yes I’m afraid he is.” So I got very annoyed again then that my daughter had died in the house. My boy had died.
I don’t know in the house, [if he] was revived and then taken. I didn’t know. And I was really, really, really annoyed that they just left me to it. That throughout all of this I’m drinking whisky because I know whisky is going to make me very violent really.

And so I have drunk a lot of whisky. And the next thing I know is I have … there’s a doctor walks through the door. And I realise they want to put me under or something, at which point I told him to get lost and he did.
He just walked out. And next thing my uncle, who happens to be in the clergy appeared.
And I looked up and I said, “Oh wow hello.” It was just all so surreal.
And I said, “You haven’t told your mum, have you?”, because she’s an old lady. And he said, “No.” I said, “Let her sleep tonight and tell her tomorrow.”
Then hours later, the police come in. The policeman comes in and wants to interview me about things. And I get the impression that he wants to tell me that my eldest has started the fire. So I got very, very angry. And then I’m told I have to go to the police station. At which point I say, “No, I want to see my husband dead. I want to make sure he’s dead.”
Sally’s mother died in 2007. Her flat caught fire, probably from a cigarette. An overdose of painkillers may have made her mother been a bit drowsy, perhaps causing the accident.
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Sally's mother had died in a fire, and she wishes she had said more to her mother about cigarette...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
I’m trying to think what it was; I think it was a Saturday.
Which year?
200715th September, I was in bed actually asleep and my brother had been trying to phone me, and my mobile was on silent so I hadn’t, I had not seen, heard it, and he just came walking into my bedroom, which straightaway I knew that something was wrong because it was about 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and he said, “Mum’s died”, so I jumped out of bed and said, “Oh my God,” you know, “What’s happened, how?” And he said, “A fire.” And I knew it was a cigarette, I knew.
Did she smoke a lot?
She smoked, and she always, I kept saying to her, “Mum, be careful of cigarette butts on the rug, and bits and pieces,” and I kept saying, “Can you please be careful of your fags all the time,” I said it to her. And as soon as he said it, I said, “It’s a cigarette, it was a cigarette, I knew it, I know it is a cigarette without doubt.” I definitely knew it was so. I don’t know what I felt really, just, I think it was guilt to start with, because I just knew it was this cigarette, and I just thought to myself, I wish I’d bloody, I don’t know drummed it in a bit more. But I think it was her only pleasure she had really, was her fags, and so it weren’t, it weren’t a case of her giving up. And so anyway I jumped out of bed and I don’t know what you feel really, do you? I don’t know what we, you just, I was more concerned, the kids as well, because they’re very close to Grandma, very close to Grandma, and I think you start worrying about everyone else really. Start putting that motherly instinct in and trying to protect them, make them be strong as well, so I was trying to be strong for everyone else.

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated August 2013


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