Fire death may have been ‘a cry for help’

Kentford house fire.
Kentford house fire.

A Kentford woman’s death in a fire she had started herself may have been the unexpected result of a cry for help, an inquest has heard.

Anne Guinle, 51, refused her husband’s desperate pleas to leave their home, in a converted stables in Gazeley Road, as smoke and flames engulfed the building.

An inquest at Bury St Edmunds yesterday heard how staff from the nearby Fothergill’s Seeds factory battled in vain using fire extinguishers to get inside but were beaten back by dense smoke and heat.

In a statement, Mrs Guinle’s husband Tony said she had started a fire in a pile of clothes in her bedroom on February 8 last year and by the time he managed to return with water from the kitchen a mattress was beginning to be engulfed in flames.

The inquest heard how Mr Guinle, a managing director, had to be treated for the effects of breathing in smoke and burns after getting out when his efforts to bring his wife to safety failed.

Outside the house, Fothergill staff, led by managing director John Fothergill, were told by Mr Guinle: “She won’t leave until the fire brigade arrive.”

An engineer from the factory managed to force open a door and a window but no-one could get in to attempt to rescue Mrs Guinle because of dense smoke and intense heat.

Later the body of Mrs Guinle, a product demonstrator, was identified using dental records.

Police established there had been no suspicious circumstances and the fire had not been the result of an electrical fault, said Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean.

A post mortem examination conducted by pathologist Dr Benjamin Swift showed that her death had been due to the inhalation of fumes.

Dr Dean said medical records indicated that Mrs Guinle was being treated by mental health professionals at the time of her death and had appeared to have previously taken an overdose of pills and swallowed weedkiller with the intention of being admitted to hospital.

The inquest heard that three-and-a-half years earlier, Mrs Guinle had been a passenger on a bus when it was struck by another vehicle and cut in half, leaving her suffering from an anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress.

Recording a narrative verdict that Mrs Guinle died as a result of a fire, Dr Dean said he could not be certain that she had intended the consequences of her actions.

Dr Dean said: “This may have been an accidental outcome to a cry for help that had tragically gone wrong.

“It is clear that her husband did what he could in these very difficult circumstances to get her out of the premises.”