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Elderly woman died of severe burns in Pinkneys Green house fire, coroner finds

An elderly woman who was found dead after a fire at her Pinkneys Green home suffered severe burns, a coroner has found.

Sheila Hemley, a retired trainer, was found dead on her bed when firefighters responded to neighbours’ reports of smoke coming from her house in Headington Road on Thursday, May 11 2017.

Ms Hemley, who was 74 when she died, was visited by carers four times a day and was in regular contact with various agencies.

A heavy smoker, she was repeatedly warned about the dangers of smoking in bed but the coroner found she did not follow that advice.

There were burn marks on her carpet, clothing and bedding from previously smoked cigarettes that she had discarded.

On the evening of her death, Ms Hemley was left with cigarettes and matches in reach. Carers had also applied cream that contained paraffin to her skin.

Senior coroner Peter Bedford, who held the inquest at Reading Town Hall on today (Monday), found no evidence Ms Hemley lacked ‘mental capacity’ when she chose to ignore the advice about smoking in bed.

Ms Hemley suffered from ischaemic heart disease, which the British Heart Foundation describes as a condition where ‘coronary arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material’.

She also had diabetes, and had recently suffered a stroke which affected her mobility.

A safeguarding report found several missed opportunities to conduct a risk assessment to identify concerns but the coroner’s report stated that ‘no obvious practical, effective actions that she is likely to have accepted and that might have prevented the outcome were identified’.

Mr Bedford’s report states a sprinkler system could have been installed but it would have needed her consent and was never discussed. Smoke alarms had been fitted to her house.

Her medical cause of death was listed as ‘severe burns’, and Mr Bedford recorded a conclusion of death by misadventure.

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