Karen - Interview 04

Age at interview: 40
Brief Outline: In 2007 Karen's mother died when her house caught fire. It is unclear how the fire started, but the coroner decided it was an accidental death. Karen was shocked by her mother's death. She has been helped and supported by her husband and his family.
Background: Karen is a registered Manager of a Care Home. She is married and has two children. Ethnic background/nationality' White British

More about me...

In April 2007 Karen’s 57 year old mother was at home when her house caught fire in the middle of the night. Her mother’s brother-in-law and her grandson were also in the house at the time. Her brother-in-law and her grandson managed to escape but Karen’s mother died in the fire. She was identified by dental records. This was a terrible shock to Karen, who arrived at her mother’s house while the fire was still burning.
At first the fire was seen as suspicious, and there was a post-mortem. It took a while for the police to finish their investigations, but by May the police were satisfied that there were no suspicious circumstances. Karen and her family were then able to hold the funeral. Karen’s mother was cremated.
During this terrible time Karen was supported by a police liaison officer, who answered questions, and who let her know how the investigation was going and who helped the family deal with the media.
The coroner’s officer also collected information for the coroner. She looked at the burnt house and interviewed Karen for about four hours. The inquest was held in March 2008. Karen felt that it was rather a waste of time because she still has unanswered questions. The coroner decided that it had been an accidental death. Karen was upset that newspaper reporters wrote inaccurate reports of what had happened. She does not think that reporters should be allowed at an inquest.
Karen found it hard to sleep after her mother’s death. Her GP gave her some sleeping tablets. Karen asked him if he could arrange some NHS counselling, but the GP said that this was not possible and suggested that she should contact Cruse Bereavement Care. Karen decided that she did not want to do that. She has been supported by her husband and his family.
Karen thinks that the fire might have been caused by an electrical fault. She thinks that Councils should conduct electrical safely checks as well as gas safety checks when inspecting their properties yearly.
Karen was interviewed for Healthtalkonline in 2008

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

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.

Karen felt that the inquest was a waste of time and a waste of taxpayers’ money. It did not...

And can you say a little bit about the inquest?
Yeah, I mean it was um, they’d said the different people that had obviously been called because they’d called certain people. And they had gone through the process but I was glad that they didn’t ask me to take the stand, the coroner himself was quite happy to read my statement because it was quite a lengthy statement. As he said, it had just about everything in there, but, which he did say that he felt was beneficial. And it didn’t sound like lip service so, so I took that on board.
This was the statement that you made to the Coroner’s Officer?
Yes. So he’d gone through all of that. Um, obviously it’s open, so they’d got two press people there anyway. I mean you can ask questions, and he, he’d just stop and say you know, “Are you happy with that?” And then moves onto the next bit. I didn’t feel, with the press there I didn’t feel that I wanted to ask questions.
Because to me they do their own interpretation of things. So I wasn’t prepared to ask questions even if I had, which I did have questions, there was no way I would have asked them in that environment with the press there because to me they, they’re like a dog with a bone aren’t they? They just don’t let go. You know and then what they print, people actually read and believe. And to me that’s what all…
What sort of questions would you like to have asked?
There was things that I wanted to ask of, of my Mum’s ex brother-in-law who’d since died. I mean he died before the inquest. Because his version didn’t tally up with what everyone else was saying. And I couldn’t understand how the police officer who actually with his version of events after interviewing my Mum’s ex brother-in-law, it didn’t, just didn’t all tally up to me. In my mind it didn’t. And it still doesn’t. You know and I did say to the coroner’s officer prior to the inquest, to me it was just a waste of taxpayers’ money because it wasn’t going to answer any questions and it wasn’t going to put any closure because there was too many questions unanswered and the length of time it took to have the inquest the person who could’ve maybe answered those questions, or actually been made to answer those questions, was no longer alive.
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Karen chose the undertaker and planned a simple funeral. She knew her mother did not want a...

So after, the first thing was the funeral, in the May.
Do you want to say a bit about that?
Well what can one say? I mean, it was just organising it and deciding which undertakers to use,
Which one?
Which undertakers obviously to use. And we had, it was probably made a bit easier for me because obviously I deal with that side of things quite a lot, in my work, but I knew the undertakers my Mum would want to use because she’d used them for my Nan, and one of the ladies that works there, I’ve worked previously in another role with, so I knew her, so it was a bit easier, it wasn’t as if I was talking to strangers the whole time. It was, I suppose it was just the way that it happens with my background.
And where did you have the funeral?
At the crematorium, in [the town]. And then there was quite a few people there which was nice to see for her.
But I always knew my Mum’s wishes because when my Nan was cremated, she didn’t want anything, like she said, she’s not there to enjoy it, so, as far as she’s concerned, you know, it was, and I said, “There’s no point in having limousine cars, she wouldn’t have wanted it. She didn’t have it for my Nan.” And I knew she didn’t have that.
The vicar that took the service. He did my Nan’s service, he did my Mum’s cousins’ service, he did my first wedding, and he was the vicar of the school when me and my sister were at school, so, it wasn’t too difficult. I mean he came to me at home to organise how I wanted the service done, but in the meantime I’d got bits in from everyone in the family what they wanted, because otherwise it tends to be a case of “Oh well you choose it, you …” Well you know if you’re put in that position. So I just took a bit from everybody, what they wanted in there, from all the grandchildren, and discussed it with my sister, and my Mum’s brother over the phone, sort of, what we’d planned and just to make sure everyone was okay with it really. 

After Karen’s mother died in a fire the family had an excellent liaison officer. She answered all...

To go back to the Police Liaison Officer, could you phone her at any time if you wanted information?
They gave us a number yes, I mean once we finally met her, it was more a question of who was actually going to take charge of dealing with things, because my sister’s older than me, but she sat there and quite categorically said no, do everything through me. Um, so they said was I happy for that. Well there’s not really a lot of choice is there? So that was fine. And yes, we were given her number, if we needed anything you know well whatever. And they asked that we didn’t actually speak directly to the media because the police were trying to handle the media through them. Because, it was obviously being treated as suspicious so they needed to, to keep a grip if you like on the media to make sure that it wasn’t, wasn’t running off everywhere. So um, but yes she was very helpful.
And you say Family Liaison Officer was the most helpful. Did she come round here every week, every day or?
She was at the end of the phone whenever we needed her. We’d all got her, her number. And so you know, I mean she was at the phone if we needed her, and like as things were progressing she was liaising that back to us. And in terms of like the media and what the police had actually released to the media and that so, so she kept us pretty much up to speed on things.
And she’s based at the police station?
She’s based at a police station, yes.

Karen found a solicitor who charged reasonable fees and who dealt with her mother’s estate. Karen...

What about all the practical things you had to do? You had to sort out papers and other things?
Yes. I mean we were sorting out the papers, I mean we managed to get the papers from the house, and bought a big box of paperwork out of my Mum’s kitchen which was unbelievably, I mean, singed round the edges, but, and her will was actually in there, intact without a blemish on it, which was quite something. I put them with one solicitor to start with, because I thought there’s no way I can deal with all of this you know. I put it with one solicitors to start with after speaking to them on the phone, explained the situation, put it with them to start with and was sort of like, I don’t want you to do anything with it, just hold it for now until I’ve spoken to the family, i.e. my sister mainly, to see what she wanted to do. And then this solicitor had done two things, which I hadn’t asked him to do, because I’d said that I knew she’d got insurance, I knew she’d got this and I knew she’d got that um, so he’d started trying to get hold of that information, so I was stuck with a bill from him. Well I quick smart moved my stuff from him to a solicitor that me and my sister were both happy with, because I said to my sister, I’m not paying this guy’s fees and then they take a percentage of the estate. I said, “That to me is just daylight robbery.” Um, so I put it with another solicitor, who they don’t charge like that, and they explained exactly what they do, do, and what they don’t do, and led very much by what the executors’ wishes are, because basically you are asking them to act on your behalf.
And he’s been very good. But the only people that have been really hard to deal with are the contents insurance people, loss adjuster. It’s a nightmare, and he’s the one that’s still holding things up now. Everyone else has done what they need to do, except this loss adjuster.
What does he do? He has to estimate how much money is due as a result of everything that’s happened?
Yes. Yes.
It’s taken that long?
Yes, it’s still going on. ‘Um, and that’s the final bit to do.
Good gracious. Why does it take so long?
Because he said that, well the solicitors' letters, because obviously when he has, the solicitor sends me a letter, he’d reckoned he’d been onto the police five times for their reports, and not said to them, you know, you don’t need to go to them, just go direct to the Coroner’s report now, you know. It’s all there.
So what the insurance will be liable to pay for you would be affected by the result of the inquest?
I see.
Yes. Like if it was a suspicious, then they’d be looking to claim whoever. So that sort of thing. 

After Karen’s mother died in a fire she said that everyone deals with death differently. There is...

Have you got any message to other people who’ve been bereaved in a traumatic way like that?
Not really, I mean everyone deals with it their own way.
I think everyone deals differently, there’s no right way, no wrong way. You know some people get angry, others don’t. There’s no right way or wrong way to deal with it.
Have you got angry at times?
I did get cross with the council when I started getting invoices through for my Mum’s repairs.
You know? Yeah I had loads of invoices turn up, ‘cos I obviously had to have my Mum’s mail re-directed.
That was a fight with Royal Mail because they wanted to charge me for the privilege. I said, “I’m not having, you’re having a laugh.” So I managed to get her post redirected, um, and no, I think there’s no right ways, no wrong ways. Some people will get angry. And all I can say to professionals is, you’ve just got to expect that they might just get angry. They might lose the plot through frustration. You know.
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