Harrow Court: Deaths were avoidable’

DRAMATIC stories and eyewitness accounts have emerged from the first days of the inquest into the deaths of two firefighters and a resident at Harrow Court. Firefighters Jeff Wornham, 28 and Michael Miller, 26, and Natalie Close, 32, of flat 85, died at t

DRAMATIC stories and eyewitness accounts have emerged from the first days of the inquest into the deaths of two firefighters and a resident at Harrow Court.

Firefighters Jeff Wornham, 28 and Michael Miller, 26, and Natalie Close, 32, of flat 85, died at the Stevenage tower block in the early hours of February 2, 2005.

The inquest at Hatfield Coroners Court heard this week there was a delay getting water to the scene of the fire, on the 14th floor, as the first firefighters on that floor did not have the correct equipment.

They needed bolt croppers to cut chains which had been used to secure water valves following a spate of vandalism.


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The fire was started in the bedroom of flat 85 after a tea light was left burning while Ms Close and her boyfriend Nicholas Savage slept.

The pair had been drinking during the day and a post mortem revealed Ms Close's blood alcohol limit to be 280mg, over three and half times the legal driving limit.

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Mr Savage said he had not intended to let the candles burn while he was asleep.

When he woke up and discovered the fire, he decided to get a towel to smother it.

He ended up trapped in the living room by the heat of the fire, at one point hanging out of the window to avoid the blaze.

Meanwhile Ms Close was sleeping in the bed.

Mr Savage said he had not woken her because he "didn't think the candle was a threat".

After he became trapped in the living room, he called out for Ms Close but got no response.

It is thought she is unlikely to have fully woken up at any point.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the deaths of the firefighters could have been avoided.

The union has written a report into the events at Harrow Court which makes 73 recommendations.

Graham Noakes, FBU regional secretary, said: "Firefighters Jeff Wornham and Michael Miller were fine firefighters who died in the line of duty.

"Both were well respected by their colleagues and the loss of Jeff and Michael is still deeply felt.

"We stress that the report did not seek to blame individuals, but to see what lessons can be learned.

"We believe the deaths of firefighters Jeff Wornham and Michael Miller were avoidable."

The FBU also added its voice to a warning issued by Hertfordshire coroner Edward Thomas.

Mr Thomas had released a DVD of a reconstruction of possible events on February 2 in a bid to warn the public of the dangers of tea lights.

Graham Noakes said: "On behalf of fire crews across the UK we would urge the public to take additional care when using all candles but small tea light candles in particular.

"We support calls for more warnings to be carried on packets of these candles.

"All instructions for use should be carefully followed.

"They may look small and relatively harmless, but three families lost loved ones in this tragedy and we don't want to see any more deaths and injuries like these.

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