Accidental verdict for mother who died in Westbourne house fire

Gemma Bishop, who died in a fire at her home in Westbourne
Gemma Bishop, who died in a fire at her home in Westbourne

A ‘VULNERABLE’ young mother died after a fire ripped through her home.

Despite attempts to call for help, Gemma Bishop, 29, of Edgell Road, Westbourne, died before she could be reached by neighbours and fire crews in May.

An inquest into her death took place at Edes House, in Chichester, on Tuesday.

“She wanted a perfect family life,” said Karine Charrett, Miss Bishop’s sister.

“It would be fair to say she was vulnerable.”

Returning a verdict of accidental death, Michael Kendall, deputy assistant coroner, said her actions might have been a desperate attempt to get her partner back in her life.

“It does appear from the evidence that she doused the house with petrol and set fire to it,” he said.

“The statements say the doors were locked from the inside which shows an intent to do something.”

However, Miss Bishop called the emergency services to report the fire, repeating a pattern of dangerous actions and calls for help.

She had made suicide attempts in the past but every time she phoned for the emergency services.

“She said her greatest fear was to die,” said Ms Charrett.

“It is entirely consistent that she attempted something which would get her partner back in her life,” said Mr Kendall.

“There isn’t sufficient evidence that she intended to die.”

Lee Spencer Smith, fire station manager at Worthing, said Miss Bishop was unconscious when crews found her.

“The petrol had been spread on the landing and the staircase,” he said.

“There were smoke detectors which had been removed.”

Miss Bishop had three children, who were taken into care after she started a relationship with a ‘controlling’ man. Miss Bishop’s family said he had been in prison several times and it ‘wasn’t safe for him to be around children’.

The inquest heard social services gave Miss Bishop ‘an ultimatum’ – either to leave him or risk losing her children.

Ms Charrett described how Miss Bishop was manipulated by her boyfriend. “He would creep back in,” she said. “She was very easily led and thought it would work.”

Miss Bishop’s father, Andrew Bishop, of Swanfield Drive, Chichester, gave evidence at the inquest.

“If someone suggested something which was not quite right, she could be persuaded to go along with something,” he said.

“From a father’s point of view, sometimes her relationships were not what I would have liked.

“I felt he was very controlling.”

“She has always dialled 999 or a friend in the past. They were cries for help.”

Ms Charrett said her sister had ‘quite high anxiety’ from the time her children were taken away from her, but had just had some good news.

“She found out her son was going to be under guardianship,” said Ms Charrett.

“It was the best news she had.”