The coroner for West Sussex is writing to the government for the third time in 12 months after another vulnerable person died – because there weren’t any batteries in his smoke alarm.
Trevor Barwick, 87, of Manor Road, Selsey, was drying his clothes on his walking frame next to the oven door on March 31 when they caught light.
The smoke from the smouldering clothing caused Mr Barwick to die of carbon monoxide inhalation in his sleep, an inquest in Worthing last Thursday heard.
He probably tried to put the clothes out in the sink and thought he had done so, but David Shaw, of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, told the coroner they must have still been smouldering underneath.
He said: “There was one smoke detector in the flat.
“The smoke alarm was open, and there was no battery in it. It’s possible that something happened and Mr Barwick believed he dealt with it and then went back to bed.
“With the amount of smoke deposited around the room I would have expected a smoke detector to have been activated, had it been powered.”
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service recommends smoke detectors powered by the mains are installed in all premises, but the government had previously said this was too expensive, according to coroner Penelope Schofield.
She said: “There have been three deaths within West Sussex in the last 12 months, all involving vulnerable people where there were smoke detectors with no batteries in them.
“There is a need for protection to be given to the vulnerable.”
Miss Schofield ruled that Mr Barwick’s death was accidental, and he died of carbon monoxide toxicity. She will now write to the housing minister, Grant Shapps, urging him to address the issue.
“I’m horrified that we are here again, faced with the death of a vulnerable person who died in a rented property,” she added.
“In all three of these cases the death could have been avoided if there was a working smoke alarm.
“I do not believe that vulnerable people should be expected to replace batteries in smoke detectors.
“I hope it will be a nationally-introduced system.”
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