Selfless husband stayed with bedridden wife as house went up in flames, inquest hears

A 'selfless' husband refused to leave his bedridden wife as their home went up in flames and perished when he could have saved himself, an inquest heard.

Monday, 12th December 2016, 4:29 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:37 pm
Roger Freestone, 67, stayed with his wife Maureen, 65,
Roger Freestone, 67, stayed with his wife Maureen, 65,

Devoted Roger Freestone, 67, stayed with his bed bound wife Maureen, 65, after he tried to remove a cardboard box from their house which had accidentally set on fire.

The inquest into their deaths today, Monday, heard how a gas fire could have set alight a box which Roger then tried to remove, but a fire rapidly spread after catching the curtains.

At a previous hearing the court heard how the couple were hoarders and there were “large amounts of combustible material throughout the property” and “no escape route” for them to take.

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The fire had started in the lounge of their detached chalet home in Somersham, but Roger moved the box to the hallway and the flames then blocked their exit on the evening of March 28 this year.

Two care workers had been looking after retired Maureen, who was paralysed down one side of her body, and managed to escape the house with one going out through a window.

One of them suffered burns to her arms and face as they tried to control the fire but numerous spray paint canisters in the property started exploding, blowing out the windows.

Roger and Maureen’s carer, used the gas canisters in his job and the explosions led to the fire service trying to “fight the fire” from outside as they also couldn’t gain entry from a blocked kitchen door.

Reaching a conclusion of accidental death, David Heming, senior coroner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: “A cardboard box in the lounge area where Mr Freestone was accidentally ignited and he attempted to remove it in the hallway but unfortunately a fire rapidly spread.

“Rather than attempt to leave the property where there was a clear opportunity to as well, he stayed, no doubt realising that his wife would not be able to extricate herself.”

He said it was in “devotion” to his wife and added: “He (Roger) went back and tried to make no attempt to leave himself.”

Roger and Maureen’s daughter, Raewyn Freestone, who was present at the inquest said: “It is obvious dad was trying to stop it (the fire) and so at the end of the day he was trying to save everyone.

“It’s amazing that the carers got out when they did otherwise we would be dealing with four deaths and two more sets of families.”

Senior Coroner Mr Heming also said he would make a regulation 28 report where he will write about his concerns that English law is “lagging” and not where it should be in comparison to Welsh law.

The court heard how in Wales every new home will now be built with a sprinkler system to prevent fires “becoming catastrophic”.

The inquest heard how the couple’s home in Somersham, had two upstairs bedrooms but they had converted a downstairs reception room into a bedroom for Maureen.

Station commander (SC) Carl Pardon of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue service told the inquest there were “large amounts of combustible material throughout the property”.

He added: “As the fire developed there were a number of explosions, smaller gas canisters getting involved in the fire.”

The inquest, at Huntingdon Town Hall, heard how there was no smoke alarm fitted and firefighters couldn’t gain access through a kitchen due to “goods stored behind the door”.

He added how “escaping the property was difficult” and the gas fire in the lounge was most likely the point of origin.

The Freestone’s two daughters, Danielle Ison and Raewyn Freestone, were present along with nephew Stephen Freestone and Danielle’s husband Ed.

Care workers Karen Gilby and Heather Clark, who worked for Westminster Homecare, managed to escape from the property.

Claire Mouland, manager of the Cambridgeshire branch of Westminster, said changes had since been made to their fire safety so that their carers, as well as service users, were in a safe environment.

She said: “The person that we are going to visit, that is their choice to live in a particular way.

“But the care workers are going into their place of work so we have put a lot of work into that.”

They now do weekly fire alarm tests for each service user and discuss potential issues in the home with the service user and then refer it to the fire service if needs be.

Son-in-law, Ed Ison, said: “It’s good to see that something is coming out of it.”

Miss Mouland told the court the two care workers were back at work a few days after the tragic incident and the family said “the last thing we would want is them to feel guilty”.

Roger’s cause of death was given as carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation and he was pronounced dead at 9.25pm.

Maureen’s cause of death was given as smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning with her health conditions also given as an underlying factor to her death.

She was also pronounced dead at 9.25pm on March 28.