Cleveleys care home death woman's bed set alight in 'dreadful act'
A 96-year-old woman was unlawfully killed in a care home when her bed was deliberately set alight in a "dreadful act", a coroner has ruled.
Edith Stuart died in hospital after the blaze at Cleveleys Park Rest Home in Lancashire, on 18 October 2010.
Two employees at the home, initially held on suspicion of her murder, gave evidence at the inquest into her death.
The CPS later ruled that there was insufficient evidence to charge either woman.
They were the sole members of staff on duty at the time and were looking after ten elderly residents - nine of whom were mentally or physically infirm.
The one mobile resident was upstairs in her room at the time of the blaze, while third party involvement from an intruder was ruled out by the police.
West Lancashire deputy coroner Simon Jones said that, similarly to detectives, he noticed "discrepancies" in the accounts of the two care workers as to their whereabouts before the fire alarm went off.
Giving evidence, Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour confirmed the cause of death as burns and that, in her opinion, Mrs Stuart was lying down when the fire spread to her bedclothes.
She suffered extensive burns to her back, arms, legs and buttocks.
Richard Percival, of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said a green cigarette lighter was discovered on the floor of the bedroom of Mrs Stuart, who did not smoke.
He said the blaze was consistent with spreading upwards from the cotton valance sheet of the bed and then across to the wall when it is likely Mrs Stuart would have thrown her bedding as she sat up.
The pattern of the blaze was not consistent with a dropped cigarette and the flame would have had to be held deliberately for three seconds rather than being wafted around, he said.
'Not a closed case'
Recording a verdict at Fleetwood Magistrates' Court of unlawful killing, Mr Jones said: "I am entirely satisfied the fire was started deliberately by a person or persons who the police were unable to identify.
"It is hard to conceive a more dreadful act than for someone to deliberately set fire to a bed in which an elderly and frail, and relatively immobile, lady, is lying in the knowledge that the lady has limited possibility of escaping the fire once it has started and in doing so to bring about her death."
He said he shared the "regret" of the police that they have been unable to identify who was the killer and bring them to justice.
"I offer my condolences to the family," he continued. "I recognise the fact this inquest has now concluded and the family are left with the one question - who is responsible for Mrs Stuart's death?
"I take some comfort in that this is not a closed case, it will be never a closed case and if any new evidence comes to light it will be considered."
A retired textile weaver, formerly from Burnley, Lancashire, Mrs Stuart had been living at the home in Stockdove Way for four years.
She died in Blackpool Victoria Hospital the day after the fire.
Lancashire Police said the case remains an ongoing murder inquiry.
In a statement they said: "Lancashire Constabulary has a policy of never closing cases and we would appeal for anyone who has any information to come forward, even at this late stage, and report it to the police so that we can give Mrs Stuart's family the answers they desperately need."