Jac Davies inquest: 'Consider law change on fire alarms'

Image source, Family picture

A law change on smoke detectors in rented homes in Wales should be considered, a coroner has said, after a four-year-old boy's death.

Jac Davies died after a blaze at his family's home in Alltwen, Neath Port Talbot, on 27 July 2016.

Licensed landlords in Wales are recommended to have devices fitted, while those in England can face prosecution over a lack of alarms.

A coroner in Swansea said Wales should consider "reciprocal" legislation.

An inquest on Monday heard Jac died after the blaze in an upstairs bedroom in the early hours. His mother, Jenny, and three siblings survived.

Firefighters said they did not hear any smoke alarms going off when they arrived and the inquest heard two mains-operated smoke detectors were not working.

Two battery-operated alarms had also been fitted, but a forensic scientist could not say whether the one on the first floor was operating.

Image caption,
A handwritten tribute from Jac's mother, Jennifer Davies

Swansea assistant coroner Aled Gruffydd said there "could be no criticism of the landlord" - who had complied with housing regulations.

However, he added: "There is a risk the consequences resulting from this case could cause other deaths."

Jac was in the house with his mother, older sister Kelsey as well as brothers Riley, three, and 11-month-old Andrew.

The inquest heard the fire sparked in Jac's bedroom - with the cause most likely a lamp, which had come into contact with clothing or textiles.

The inquest heard Miss Davies was downstairs with Andrew and Kelsey when crying was heard coming from Jac's room at about 01:00.

Miss Davies said she went upstairs and saw thick black smoke on the landing.

Despite attempts to put out the fire, she was forced to leave the house with Andrew and Kelsey, while Jac and Riley, who was asleep in separate bedroom, were still inside.

A number of Miss Davies' neighbours "bravely" risked their own lives by trying to get inside, but the flames and smoke were too intense.

Two firefighters - Brian Bowen and Richard Greenslade - said the heat was so intense it stopped a thermal-imaging camera from working properly.

Firefighter Bowen managed to rescue Riley, while his colleague tackled the flames. When he went back inside, he found Jac dead on the top bunk.

A post-mortem examination revealed the youngster died from smoke inhalation.

Two "hardwired" smoke detectors were found to be faulty, while a battery operated one downstairs was working properly. Tests could not be carried out on the fourth, which was destroyed by the blaze.

After recording a narrative conclusion, Mr Gruffydd said he would send a Prevention of Future Deaths report to the Welsh Government and would write to ministers about the possibility of changing the law.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "Whilst we await the coroner's full report, we are already planning to regulate to ensure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are fitted in rented properties."

Regulations in England make it compulsory for licensed landlords to fit smoke detectors, but it is only "best practice" for them to be fitted on every floor of a property in Wales.

Following the tragedy, his mother was arrested on suspicion of child neglect but South Wales Police later confirmed no further action would be taken.