Hunt for killer who set fire to Burnley pensioner's bed
9:43am Friday 1st June 2012 in News
THE grieving daughters of a great-grandmother who burned to death in a care home after her bed was deliberately torched have made a desperate plea for her killer to be found.
A top detective has vowed to continue the hunt for those responsible for 96-year-old Edith Stuart’s death — and said her murder inquiry will ‘always be open’.
Former Burnley textile weaver Mrs Stuart, suffered 50 per cent burns to her body when the fire engulfed her after someone held a flame to the side of her bed.
At her inquest coroner Simon Jones said it was a ‘disgrace’ that no one had been brought to justice for the unlawful killing of Mrs Stuart two years ago.
Mrs Stuart’s daughters Shirley Fish, from Poulton, and Jean Worgan, from Northampton, spoke of their desperation for someone to be brought to justice.
Mrs Fish, 76, said: “We feel let down that we have had no justice. Nobody expects elderly people to be murdered in their beds by arsonists. Whoever did this must come forward.”
Senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Neil Esseen said: “It remains an open and ongoing murder inquiry and will always remain open.
“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.”
Two employees at the Cleveleys Park Nursing Home in Cleveleys, who were initially held on suspicion of her murder, gave evidence at the inquest into her death in October 2010.
They were the sole members of staff who were on duty at the time and were looking after 10 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.
Deputy coroner Mr Jones said that, similar to detectives, he noticed ‘discrepancies’ in the accounts of care workers Charlene Clough, 28, and Sophie Nolan, 18, as to their whereabouts before the fire alarm went off.
The Crown Prosecution Service ruled last March that there was insufficient evidence to charge either of the two women in connection with the death.
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.
Mr Jones said: “I offer my condolences to the family.
“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."
The inquest heard that Mrs Stuart had moved from Burnley after her husband Bill died in 1983.
She had been living at the home in Stockdove Way for four years.
At the inquest, Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour confirmed the cause of death was 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 as she lay in bed with her pink teddy bear.
There were no signs of natural disease although the pensioner experienced deafness, arthritis and limited mobility.
Watch manager 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. It was likely to have been damaged in the fire though and no DNA evidence could be obtained from it.
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.
There were no defects with gas or electrical appliances and the "highly likely" explanation was deliberate ignition, he said.