Fire death of Heacham parish councillor ‘accidental’, inquest concludes

Fire at Caley Street in Heacham
Fire at Caley Street in Heacham

A house blaze which killed a Heacham parish councillor is likely to have been started by a misplaced cigarette or something falling from an open fire, an inquest heard today.

Tracey Swann, who was 46, had been a leading campaigner in the fight to save the village’s fire station from closure.

Flowers outside of Heacham fire station following the death of Tracey Swann

Flowers outside of Heacham fire station following the death of Tracey Swann

But a hearing at Lynn’s magistrates court this morning was told a defective smoke alarm might have saved her when fire broke out at her home in Caley Street last September, if it had been working.

The court heard Miss Swann, a heavy smoker, had been found in a first floor bedroom and the smoke detector on that floor had not been working before the blaze.

A fire investigation report said: “If the smoke detector on the first floor had been working, it might well have woken her up.”

Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake, who recorded a verdict of accidental death, added that the evidence had “raised concerns” about ensuring smoke alarms were working properly and the potential dangers of smoking and having an open fire indoors.

Miss Swann had been a key figure in the fight against proposals to shut the fire station, which were dropped just a few months before her death.

A statement from her son Tanner, which was read to the court said: “My mum was a caring person who had lots of friends and did loads for the community.

“She rarely had time for herself, always putting others first.”

Neighbour John Cross added: “Tracey was a well known member of the community and was well liked and respected.”

A post-mortem examination concluded that Miss Swann had died as a result of smoke inhalation and extensive burns sustained in the blaze on the evening of September 24, 2016.

Mr Cross said he had been in his home when he became aware of a soot and tobacco smell and a crackling sound from the chimney breast.

When he went to investigate, he saw Miss Swann’s home ablaze. Her son had been at an event at the village’s youth club when the fire broke out.

The court heard she had suffered a severe back injury in a fall several weeks prior to her death, which had significantly restricted her mobility.

Investigating police officer, Detective Constable Heather Chisholm, said the fall had affected Miss Swann both physically and mentally.

The fire investigation report said the blaze was likely to have been started by a misplaced cigarette or an object falling from the open fire in the property onto combustable material, such as a rug or newspapers which were kept near the fire to fuel it.

Tanner said he had been asked to bring logs in when he last saw his mother, around an hour before the fire broke out.

The report added that a combination of alcohol and medication in Miss Swann’s system meant it was likely she was unaware of a misplaced cigarette or something falling from the fire.

Witnesses had also raised concerns about her drinking. Sixteen empty vodka bottles were found at the house after the blaze, the court heard.