St Leonards hospice patients unlawfully killed in fire, inquest finds

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St Michael's Hospice
Image caption,
The hospice has been rebuilt since the fire four years ago

Three cancer patients who died after a fire at a hospice were unlawfully killed, a coroner has concluded.

Pearl Spencer, 78, Jill Moon, 62, and David Denness, 81, died partly from the effects of the fire at St Michael's Hospice in St Leonards, East Sussex.

Forensic pathologist Dr Ashley Fegan-Earl told the inquest in Hastings they would not have died when they did if the fire had not occurred.

The hospice was fined £250,000 after admitting fire safety breaches.

Hove Crown Court heard staff were ill-trained to deal with such an event, and the main fire exit was locked.

The blaze on 11 July 2015 was started by another resident who died before he could go on trial for arson.

Image caption,
Twenty-three elderly patients, some of whom were terminally ill, and nine members of staff were in the hospice

The inquest heard that the cause of death for Mr Denness and Ms Moon was cancer in association with inhalation of fire fumes. Both died at the Conquest Hospital, in Hastings.

The cause of death for Ms Spencer, who died at a nursing home, was cardio respiratory collapse and cancer "in a person extracted from a fire".

The fire was started "either deliberately or through gross negligence" by patient Rodney Smith in the early hours with a cigarette lighter which set fire to a bed.

Senior Coroner Alan Craze said: "We are dealing with three absolute tragedies.

"Three deaths which have affected three families who will never forget the circumstances they happened in."

Following the conclusion of the inquest, Irene Dibben, chairwoman of St Michael's Hospice, and Karen Clarke, chief executive of St Michael's Hospice, said: "We remain truly sorry for the pain and suffering caused by the fire.

"Our thoughts are with the families and it was with deep sadness that we heard their moving tributes and experiences during the inquests."

In a joint statement, they said the "act of arson had a devastating impact", but "comprehensive improvements" had since been made at the hospice.

Following a recent inspection by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, the fire safety level within the building was described as "exemplary", they added.

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