MICE GUILTY OF ARSON BUT CLEARED OF MANSLAUGHTER
A woman suffered horrific burns in a house fire which may have been caused by hungry mice, an inquest heard.
The ravenous rodents are thought to have nibbled through the electrical flex of a fridge, starting the electrical blaze at Linda Wyatt's home.
Firefighters found Mrs Wyatt, 55, slumped against the 14 year-old appliance in her smoldering ground floor flat, Westminster Coroner's Court heard.
But she may have died before the flames took hold, the court was told.
London Fire Brigade investigator, Barry Kent, told the inquest that it was likely the appliance had been ablaze for sometime as it had burned a hole through the floor.
‘In the kitchen area there were large quantities of mouse droppings, there appeared to be a pretty large infestation,' he said.
‘We haven’t been able to 100 per cent rule out that rodent activity had been involved, whether they had been in there and nesting and chewed on something.'
He added that Ms Wyatt had probably become aware of the fire, walked over the refrigerator and then collapsed.
Her body had been burnt beyond recognition but the findings of a post mortem examination surprised pathologist Dr Michael Heath.
‘There was quite extensive fire damage to the body and this was mainly involving the upper parts of the body,' he said.
‘When I examined the airways and the stomach there was no evidence of inhalation of fire products. Normally in that situation you get quite an abundance.'
Dr Heath said the absence of smoke inhalation suggested Ms Wyatt had been dead before the fire started.
‘It is possible that Ms Wyatt had become intoxicated and had collapsed and then was overwhelmed by the fire,' he added.
‘I think on the balance of probabilities this is a natural cause with these secondary events going on, which is again coincidental.’
Ms Wyatt was a heavy drinker, a chain smoker and was taking medication for epilepsy.
Coroner Fiona Wilcox said: ‘This has been quite a testing inquiry because we thought that this death was due to fire, but it would appear that she had a coronary artery event, perhaps on finding the fire, but there is no direct causal link between the fire.
‘We are left with speculation as to whether rodents caused or contributed towards the fire or whether the shock of the fire caused her to die,’ she said.
The coroner found Ms Wyatt of Flat 1(86) Huron Road, Tooting southwest London, who was born in Birmingham died of coronary artery disease.
Verdict: natural causes
Speaking at the end of the inquest her sister, Georgina O’Leary, said: ‘I am surprised she didn't die before, but she was happy.
‘If you keep drinking and smoking to the excess these people do, it will kill you – too much alcohol and too much smoking eventually kills you.’
Miss O’Leary who had made the trip from her home in Heron Ridge, Polegate, East Sussex, said she thought her sister had died from smoke inhalation.
‘It is nice for me to know that she actually probably went to sleep basically – for me it is closure,’ she added.