Unlawful killing verdict after Littlehampton arson

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An arson attack took the life of a 24-year-old man who was ‘happy and enjoying life’.

Terry Davies died in a fire at his flat in South Terrace, Littlehampton on September 12, 2013.

An inquest into his death, held at Edes House in Chichester on November 3, heard Mr Davies called his girlfriend Kerry in a panic after a fire alarm went off in his block of flats.

But firefighters called to tackle the blaze didn’t find Mr Davies for an hour after they arrived at the scene – despite attempts to search his flat.

Firefighter Robert Jackson said he was knocking on all the closed doors in the building, before finding Terry Davies’ front door open.

“The smoke was so thick,” he told the inquest. “It was like putting on a blindfold.”

Mr Jackson said he searched the bedroom, where Mr Davies was eventually found, but couldn’t find anything in the darkness.

“There was stuff everywhere,” he added. “I worked my way around the room.”

The inquest heard Mr Davies, who had learning difficulties, did not phone the emergency services, but instead phoned his girlfriend, Kerry Stark.

She said: “He told me the fire alarm was going off and there was smoke in his flat.

“I told him to get out. He said he couldn’t see because of smoke.”

She said Mr Davies had been having panic attacks and said was worried about his pet rabbit which was in the flat.

The inquest heard Mr Davies’ flat was filled with smoke from the fire downstairs and had suffered more fire damage than any flats in the building.

Results of a post mortem found Mr Davies died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

His body was eventually found on the floor of his bedroom by East Preston firefighter Jon Mays, who had gone back to check the rooms.

Investigation

Fire Investigation Officer for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, Mark Hayter said initially the cause of the fire – which was first believed to be due to the electrics – was unclear.

But checks later revealed white spirit had been put under the floor boards in the entrance hall of the flat.

Mr Hayter said: “We realised there was a corner of the bottom of the electrics cupboard where we hadn’t dug down. We pulled up some of the floor boards.

He said white spirit is not ‘easy’ to light.

“Listening to how the flats were run I didn’t think it would be there by chance. I would be convinced it was started deliberately.”

Conclusion

Coroner Martin Milward said: “Terry was aware there was a fire from the telephone conversation he had with Kerry.

“We can surmise that he was overcome by the effects of the fire at a relatively early stage.

“We can be sure that Terry wasn’t found for well over an hour.

“That delay may or may not have contributed to his death.”

Mr Milward said the room Mr Davies was found in was full of rubbish and could possibily have made the search more difficult.

He added: “Terry wasn’t discovered for well over an hour. We know that there are some problems possibly relating to the search process, although the fire service did not know he was in the building.”

“I’m satisfied from all the evidence that the correct conclusion is one of a unlawful killing.”

‘Mum is not giving up’

Mitzi Price, Terry’s mother, said she welcomed the coroner’s conclusion but is still appealing for witnesses to come forward to help the police with their murder investigation.

She said: “Mum is not giving up. Terry was full of life. He was a larger than life character.

“He was happy, he was enjoying life.”

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service

A spokesman for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said: “First and foremost this is a very personal tragedy for the friends and family of Terry Davies and we again express our sympathies and condolences to them.

“We established very early on that things didn’t go as planned that night and we very much regret that Mr Davies was not located earlier.

“Our crews were working in very difficult conditions, feeling their way round a building with a complex layout in zero visibility and searching for an unknown number of people with little or no knowledge of their whereabouts.

“However the subsequent investigation and timeline of this incident has shown it may or may not have already been too late to save Mr Davies due to the density of toxic smoke that entered his flat.

“Mr Davies sadly died from smoke inhalation as a result of a fire being deliberately set by a person or persons as yet unknown.

“Our wish now is for perpetrators of Terry’s death to be brought to justice to give some closure for his family.

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