St Albans woman, 77, died after dropping cigarette in bin

PUBLISHED: 12:00 18 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:39 06 May 2010

A DISABLED 77-year-old woman largely confined to her armchair for 24 hours a day died after dropping a cigarette into a wicker waste paper basket. Widower Mary Soar, who lived in the St Augusta Court retirement complex in Batchwood View, St Albans, died a

A DISABLED 77-year-old woman largely confined to her armchair for 24 hours a day died after dropping a cigarette into a wicker waste paper basket.

Widower Mary Soar, who lived in the St Augusta Court retirement complex in Batchwood View, St Albans, died after a fire broke out in her first floor flat on June 18.

An inquest into her death on Tuesday heard that firefighters wearing breathing apparatus found her unconscious and sitting upright in her armchair, with a small fire blazing beside her.

Although they removed Mrs Soar, a heavy smoker, from the property, paramedics were unable to revive her and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

A post-mortem found that she died from carbon monoxide poisoning of 18 per cent and had sustained third degree burns which she was unlikely to have felt.

Mrs Soar also suffered from emphysema, multiple sclerosis and osteoarthritis which had left her immobile and she spent her days and nights in her armchair.

Fire officer Mark Cheshire explained that the blaze was started by a cigarette which had dropped into a wicker basket next to Mrs Soar's armchair and she had probably fallen asleep before the incident.

As the chair was fire-resistant, Mr Cheshire said the blaze would have probably burnt itself out rather than spreading. He said the fire alarm was working, but its reaction was delayed due to its position between the living room and front doors, where it had been placed to prevent it being triggered by her cigarette smoke.

Animal-lover Mrs Soar lived alone in a two-storey house in Sandfield Road, St Albans, with her cats before moving into St Augusta Court in December 2008 against the advice of doctors and social services who felt that a residential care home would be more suitable.

Mrs Soar, who received visits from carers three times a day, also declined numerous offers of increased levels of care support and ignored warnings about her heavy smoking, which was the subject of numerous complaints from other residents.

Housing manager at St Augusta Court, Keely Poynte, said of Mrs Soar: "She was a lovely, happy person. She missed her cats and used to talk about them all of the time, and she had pictures of them all over the walls. She also had a fantastic sense of humour - a funny and comical lady."

Catherine Wysall, area manager for Peverel which runs St Augusta Court, explained that they were only aware of Mrs Soar's severe immobility when she moved in after buying the flat from a local estate agent.

Herts coroner Edward Thomas recorded a verdict of accidental death with the cause of death confirmed as respiratory failure due to smoke inhalation, with a secondary factor being Mrs Soar's multiple sclerosis.

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