The death of Irene Cockerton, 87, in the fire at Gibson Court was a “tragic accident”, the coroner ruled last Friday.
Irene was the only resident who did not reach safety after fire swept through the retirement leasehold site on September 30 2011.
Her body was found by rescue workers the next day in her wardrobe where she is believed to have taken shelter. She died of asphyxiation.
Fire crews had risked their safety by returning to the building during the fire “to rescue a lot of vulnerable people who almost certainly would have perished otherwise”, said coroner Richard Travers.
He also addressed the issue of the fire safety curtains in the roof space that were damaged. In June 2010 these had been brought to the attention of Peverel, which manages the site for the freeholder, the Tchenguiz Family Trust.
The curtains were repaired in February 2011, but the damage was “not simple” and the inspection was “limited”. Mr Travers said “one will never know if adequate works had taken place”.
He criticised the “pitiful, flawed and inaccurate” annual fire risk assessment at the site. The Peverel area manager had never entered the roof space to check fire precautions.
Mr Travers said he would write to relevant agencies expressing concerns about carrying out effective fire risk assessments of the roof void at Peverel properties; the communication between the emergency control room and firefighters at the scene; the speed at which emergency calls made to Careline are transferred to the emergency control room, using a stay put policy where residents are elderly and the positioning of smoke alarms within individual flats.
Peverel commented to the local press: “The safety and wellbeing of all our customers is our utmost priority. We will give all due consideration to the coroner’s conclusion and any subsequent reports to identify if there are any areas where further improvements can be made.”