Tragic house fire at North Wingfield was a “timebomb” waiting to happen

The house on Williamthorpe Road, North Wingfield, which was the scene of a tragic blaze which claimed four lives.
The house on Williamthorpe Road, North Wingfield, which was the scene of a tragic blaze which claimed four lives.

A Derbyshire fire service investigation into the fatal house fire at North Wingfield which left four people dead has revealed that it had been caused by an electrical fault that had become a “timebomb” just waiting to go off.

The blaze at the house on Williamthorpe Road in the early hours of November 20 was sparked by a cable fault hidden in the floorboards between the ground floor and first floor of the property.

Chesterfield coroner’s court heard during an inquest on Tuesday into the deaths of Claire James, Josie Leighton and her sons Jordan and Tyler Green that the fault had caused a slow smouldering in the floorboard space.

A forensic investigator for the fire service explained the only way it could have been detected was if all the floorboards in the house had been pulled up and every bit of wire had been checked.

Assistant Derbyshire coroner James Newman said the fire was “a timebomb” that could have started any time.

Even though the property had functioning smoke alarms, Derbyshire fire service still stressed their importance in terms of alerting occupants and neighbours.

Derbyshire fire service spokesman Dave Coss, who is a fire investigation dog handler, said: “We would advise everyone to have smoke detectors fitted. If anyone has any concerns they need only to contact the fire service and we will come out and do home safety checks.

“If people hear smoke alarms in other properties we also urge them to dial 999 because a false alarm is always better than no alarm.”

The brave survivor of the horrific house fire which killed her mother and three others did everything she could to try and save their lives.

Chesterfield coroner’s court heard how seven-year-old Tia James had been awake when lethal smoke from a fire spread through the house on Williamthorpe Road, North Wingfield, killing her mother Claire James, 27, her mother’s friend Josie Leighton, 32, and her young sons Jordan, 12, and Tyler Green, 9.

Tia told police how she had woken and tried to alert Claire and Josie and the boys and tried guiding one of the boys downstairs but all four perished and died from smoke inhalation.

Assistant coroner for Derbyshire James Newman said: “Tia was woken by something, possibly an alarm and by smelling something, and she remembers trying to wake Tyler and Jordan.

“She remembers trying to wake Josie and Claire. Her recollection is that Josie and Claire were awake as she remembers Josie saying let’s go downstairs.”

The smoke-blackened youngster said she got outside and tried to rouse neighbours during the fire in the early hours of November 20, 2013, but she got no response and she was found by firefighters.

Neighbour Sarah Hempshall said she had previously heard banging and shouting from Claire’s home and during the night of the fire in the early hours of November 20 she did not respond when she heard noises and a tap at the window.

She said she was unsure if she had heard an intermittent smoke alarm sounding and woke about 4.55am when she smelled smoke and then alerted the fire service.

Firefighters forced their way into the property and a firefighter found one of the boys at the bottom of the stairs and found Claire and Josie at the top of the stairs and another firefighter found another boy in a bedroom.

Claire and Jordan were declared dead just before 6am and Jordan and Tyler were taken to Chesterfield Royal Hospital where they were pronounced dead just before 7.30am.

Tia told police the boys had been staying at Claire’s home for a sleep-over and she had gone downstairs after an alarm had sounded.

Neighbour Ian Shaw, who lives about 12 houses away, told the hearing how he had heard a little girl shouting “mum” three times after he had been woken by one of his dogs about 1.40am and had gone outside.

He added: “In hindsight I should have gone down and had a look and I cannot apologise enough. If I had been there I would have broke the door down.”

Derbyshire fire service established there had been an electrical fault in the floor board space between the ground floor and the first floor of the property which could not have been detected.

The fire spread upwards, according to an investigating Derbyshire fire officer, and had also spread to a TV below which ignited and flames went up and thick black smoke was produced.

Assistant coroner Mr Newman, who confirmed Tyler was found upstairs in the house and Jordan was found downstairs, concluded that Claire James, of Williamthorpe Road, and Josie Leighton, Jordan and Tyler Green, of Dethick Way, North Wingfield, all died as the result of an accident.

He said: “While I believe there was a missed opportunity to raise an earlier alarm, I have not heard anything to suggest it would have made a material difference in terms of the outcome.”

Following the hearing, Josie Leighton’s mother Lynn Leighton and Josie’s auntie Jayne O’Brien told how Tuesday’s inquest at Chesterfield coroner’s court has helped them better understand how Josie died in the tragic North Wingfield house fire.

Lynn, who also lost grandsons Jordan and Tyler Green in the fire, said: “The inquest has helped us understand exactly what happened although it was gruelling to experience a lot of it all over again.

“We miss them all very much and it still feels as though it has only just happened.”

Josie’s auntie Jayne said: “People definitely need - one hundred per cent - to get smoke alarms.”

Lynn and Josie have previously described Josie as lovely and caring and they described Tyler as a happy youngster and Jordan as a real character.

Claire James’s mother Angela and her sister Rachael described how Claire had just got a job and had said she was the happiest she had been before the tragic house fire took her life.

Rachael said: “Claire had just got a job as a care assistant and she had a good friend in Josie and she said on Facebook that it was the happiest time of her life.

“Claire was the sort of person that if she only had a £1 and you needed a £1 she would give it to you.

“I just cannot help thinking that if someone had raised an alarm, would it have made a difference?”

Tia’s uncle, Adrian Marson, has previously told the Derbyshire Times how seven-year-old Tia, who survived the fire, has bravely started to rebuild her life after her mum Claire James’s death.