Lakanal House fire: Victim's 'hour-long 999 call'

Catherine Hickman was one of six people who died inside their flats at Lakanal House

A woman who died in a fire at flats in south London fell unconscious while on a 999 call pleading for help for almost an hour, an inquest heard.

Catherine Hickman, 31, made the call from her 11th-floor home in Lakanal House, Camberwell, on 3 July 2009.

She told the operator: "Oh my God, listen, I can see flames at the door."

An inquest is being held into her death and those of Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter and Dayana Francisquini, 26, and her two children.

Jurors heard how faulty electrical equipment started the fire on the ninth floor of the 14 storey block, which housed 98 maisonettes.

It spread to other flats including number 79, where Ms Hickman lived, and flat 81, where Ms Udoaka and her baby daughter Michelle had gathered with Ms Francisquini, six-year-old Thais, and Filipe, three.

'Orange everywhere'

Counsel to the "super inquest" James Maxwell-Scott, went through a series of 999 calls made as the fire took hold.

He said: "It is clear that this call lasted nearly an hour and that the line was still open to fire brigade control when Ms Hickman lost consciousness."

She spoke to the operator a number of times, explaining that more and more smoke was getting in to her flat.

Mr Maxwell-Scott told the hearing at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton that at 16:23 BST: "Catherine Hickman told the operator that black smoke was coming right up outside the window and that she could hear a noise.

The fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell in July 2009 Almost 100 families were left homeless by the fire

"She said: 'What should I do, should I get out?' The operator told her to go into a room where there was less smoke."

Mr Maxwell-Scott said: "She asked whether she should go downstairs or out into the corridor and the operator said that she ought not to open the door because she did not know what was on the other side."

At 16:30, she told the operator: "It's orange, it's orange everywhere" and that smoke was coming through the floorboards and she could not open any windows.

Jurors heard she told the operator she could see flames at the door before saying: "I'm getting really hot in here."

By 16:55 the operator told fire crews she had stopped talking and they could not hear her breathing.

No charges

Ms Udoaka had also called the emergency services to say she and her baby were trapped and "everywhere is choked with smoke".

Mr Maxwell-Scott said she was told to use a towel or blanket to stop the smoke coming in.

Jurors were shown photographs and a short video detailing how the lethal fire spread with thick smoke pouring from the top of the building and the internal corridor filled with smoke.

One image showed a resident trying to put together a makeshift rope to lower himself off a balcony to escape.

Jurors also heard that last May it was decided that there was no realistic prospect of any prosecution for manslaughter against Southwark Council or any company in relation to the fire.

Almost 100 families were made homeless by the fire.

The inquest, being heard by Assistant Deputy Coroner Frances Kirkham, is expected to last until the end of March.

The inquest continues.

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