Fatal South Yorkshire house fire was '˜deliberate', inquest hears

A house fire which tragically claimed the life of a man and woman was deliberately started by one of them, an inquest has heard.

Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 10:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 12:26 pm
Fire damage at the scene of the fire on Cherry Tree St, Elsecar, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, on 8 July 2015. A man and a woman died at the scene last night (7 July 2015) after firefighters were called to the scene around 6:50pm. See Ross Parry copy RPYFIRE : Two people have died following a serious house fire in Barnsley. Firefighters rescued an adult male and adult female from the fire on Cherry Tree Street, Elsecar. But despite the considerable efforts of firefighters and ambulance crews at the scene, both sadly passed away. Firefighters were called to the incident at around 6.50pm on Tuesday evening. Three fire engines- from Tankersley and Dearne stations- attended. See Ross Parry copy rossparry.co.uk/Harry Whitehead

Katherine Collard, aged 55, and Erwin Albers, 62, died in the blaze on Cherry Tree Street, Elsecar, in July 2015, despite the efforts of neighbours and emergency services.

Sheffield Coroner’s Court heard yesterday that the fire was started by either Mr Albers or Ms Collard – but there was ‘absolutely no evidence’ to say which one it might have been.

Recording a narrative conclusion, Coroner Christopher Dorries said both died as a result of smoke inhalation.

He said: “The fire started in the rear bedroom, part way through the right hand side of the bed.

“The fire investigator can only conclude, by exclusion of all other causes, that the fire was started deliberately.

“The house was secure at the time, so it can only have been started by one or the other occupants. There is absolutely no evidence to tell me which one this might have been.”

Fire Investigator Simon Roger concluded that a mattress in the bedroom had been set alight with a disposable cigarette lighter, which was found close to the source of the blaze.

The Coroner praised the ‘brave efforts’ of neighbours on the street – who entered the burning property in an attempt to save the couple.

But despite their courage, Mr Alders was pronounced dead at the scene and Ms Collard died in A&E shortly after arriving.

The court heard that the couple had a ‘very difficult’ ‘on-off’ relationship.

Detective Sergeant Lisa Jo Hope said that Ms Collard had ‘run away’ from the property on numerous occasions.

She added that Ms Collard had made various allegations against her partner to the police and other organisations, which were later withdrawn.

But DS Hope said that neighbours on the street described the couple as seeming happier at the time of the fire.

The court heard that an attending fireman found a clump of blonde hair in the fist of Mr Albers upon pulling him out of the property.

However, this clump was said to have blown away and there were no signs – on either person – of violence or a struggle taking place.

The Coroner said: “The firefighter described this as mousy blonde hair and describes Ms Collard’s hair as light brown. The pathologist... finds no trauma to the head or a missing clump of hair.

“I cannot take that point further, it may be indicative of events or not.”