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Fatal Downham Market house fire started in lounge, inquest hears

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A 49-year-old Downham woman with a history of epilepsy and smoking habits was found lying dead on the ground floor of her home, an inquest has heard.

Firefighters were called to the home of sole occupant Rachel Wright around 1.45pm on April 8 after neighbours had reported thick smoke at the Rosemary Way property.

Today's inquest heard the fire started in the lounge before spreading to the kitchen, and then the first floor where there was less damage.

An inquest into the death of Rachel Wright took place today (Friday, November 13)
An inquest into the death of Rachel Wright took place today (Friday, November 13)

Two suggestions for the cause were stated in court, with no conclusive evidence as to whether it was the result of a carelessly discarded cigarette or deliberate ignition by the occupant.

Evidence from a fire officer was read out in court, stating a high quantity of empty cigarette packets and pouches were found in the property, with a lack of ashtrays noted.

It was also suggested the fire could have been mitigated if domestic sprinklers had been installed.

A post-mortem report stated the cause of death was inhalation of fire fumes. The involvement of alcohol was ruled out.

A witness statement by resident James Judge, who saw the smoke from his window on the day, said: "There was thick black smoke at the rear of the property. I could see straight away something was wrong.

"The fire engines were at the property for five to 10 minutes before I could see flames coming out of the French doors. I saw nothing suspicious before, during or after the incident."

The inquest also heard from another resident who entered the property through the front door before the fire service arrived.

He could make out Ms Wright was lying on the floor, but there was an obstacle in the way, later believed to have been a shelf, which meant he could not get to her.

The court heard the fire service had previously been called to her property in February after Ms Wright had been burning rubbish in her back garden, which became out of control and resulted in her being taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The inquest heard Ms Wright had a long history of depression and had severe epilepsy going back to her childhood, which required regular reviews with a neurologist based at Addenbrooke's Hospital.

It was also stated she had attempted to take her own life on multiple occasions over the past decade.

A statement read out on behalf of Ms Wright's sister said: "Rachel was very angry with the world and felt she had been dealt a bad card in life with her epilepsy."

The court heard West Norfolk county councillor Alex Kemp had raised concerns over the management of Ms Wright's care in March.

Mental health charity Norfolk and Waveney Mind contacted Ms Wright's social worker in January to inform her they had ended their service due to non-engagement.

Ms Wright also received support from the county council's social care team, the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), as well as The Care Company in Lynn.

The inquest heard Ms Wright had at one stage voiced confusion over the amount of services she was receiving.

The court also heard daily face-to-face visits from The Care Company were suspended due to the pandemic, with Ms Wright continuing to be delivered food and other essential items.

Senior coroner Jacqueline Lake adjourned the inquest to a future date as she said she wanted to make further enquiries to the county council and NSFT as to whether residential housing had been considered for Ms Wright.

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