Body lay undiscovered for three days after blaze

By Scott Jamison

The body of a South Belfast woman who died in a house fire remained undiscovered for three days despite neighbours noticing smoke coming from the property, the inquest into her death has heard.

Iris Hoey died in the blaze at her home in Ulsterville Avenue off the Lisburn Road on December 26, 2010. But despite her next-door neighbour being aware of smoke coming from the property, it wasn’t until a work colleague investigated her absence from work a few days later that her body was found.

The inquest, which took place this past Monday (November 28) at Belfast Coroners’ Court, heard that one of Ms Hoey’s cigarettes had caused the fire, which was contained to the leather armchair she was sitting in and the floorboards below it.

The deceased woman, whose dressing gown caught fire and who was likely suffering the effects of drinking alcohol, managed to crawl from her living room into her hallway and to her back door, where she eventually died.

The 56-year-old, who was a ward manager at the City Hospital, was eventually discovered on December 29 after her manager went to her home following two days of unexplained absence from work.

However, the inquest also heard from Ms Hoey’s next-door neighbour Geoff Gatt, who first noticed smoke coming from her house on Boxing Day.

“Around 1am there was a clanging noise from her house which was unusual as she normally was very quiet and kept herself to herself. My wife and I could smell smoke coming from her house and assumed she had lit a coal fire.

“Our fire alarm went off and I looked out. Smoke was coming out of her chimney so we assumed it was the fire had been lit. An hour later our fire alarm went off again due to the house being a bit smoky.

“We just thought it was because we had left our window open. We went for a brief walk and saw the smoke was still coming from the chimney. I thought nothing more about it until I saw the emergency services at the house on December 29.”

The inquest also heard evidence from state pathologist Professor Jack Crane, who said a post mortem on Ms Hoey showed carbon monoxide in her bloodstream and smoke in her lungs, meaning she had been alive when the fire started but was likely drowsy from alcohol.

Coroner Brian Sherrard said although it was “an odd idea” for just the armchair and surrounding floor to be the only areas affected by the fire, it had been known to happen previously.

He concluded Ms Hoey had died from burns and smoke inhalation as a result of the fire.

“We can appreciate the horror of this situation, where somebody who devoted her entire life to helping others suffered a particularly tagic death,” he told the court.

Speaking afterwards, Ms Hoey’s brother William said he wished to give his thanks to the emergency services and everyone else who tried to help his sister following the incident.

 

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