A coroner today ruled a fire which caused the tragic deaths of four young children was caused by fumes after a cigarette was discarded.
Siblings Riley Holt, aged eight, six-year-old Keegan Unitt, Tilly Rose Unitt, aged four, and three-year-old Olly Unitt were all killed in the blaze.
The flames ripped through their home in Sycamore Drive, in the Highfields area of Stafford, on February 5 last year.
The children’s parents Natalie Unitt and Christopher Moulton were initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence. But police later confirmed no further action was being taken against them after a file was passed to the CPS.
A major investigation by Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service found the blaze was likely to have started in the main bedroom.
But at the inquest into the deaths today, the couple disputed the conclusions of experts.
They said they awoke that night to find the fire, which appeared to be on the landing.
Ms Unitt said the first thing she was aware of was a ‘heaviness’ in her chest. “I still have nightmares about it now,” she added.
When pressed to describe what happened, she said she could not recall as she has since been suffering post-traumatic stress.
Mr Moulton, who suffered serious burns to his hands, said he was unable to reach the four children, who were sleeping in other bedrooms.
Their youngest child, who was aged two at the time, survived the fire as he had been sleeping near his parents.
The couple both told the inquest they had escaped via their bedroom window.
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But police and fire investigators noted there were discrepancies in the parents’ accounts, both in relation to each other and to the evidence found at the scene.
Leigh Richards, from West Midlands Fire Service, said he believed the first had started with a discarded cigarette on the bed. The couple admitted they had both been smoking in bed, despite an earlier warning from social care services.
This then caused a ‘flashover’, with everything in the master bedroom becoming alight. And the fire spread onto the landing.
Mr Richards suggested that Ms Unitt had gone downstairs to get water to throw on the fire, but was unable to get back up to the bedrooms. He said she appeared to have escaped via a downstairs door.
South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh described it as a tragedy. He said: “My hope is the children died quite peacefully in their beds.”
He recorded a narrative conclusion, saying it was due to fumes from the fire caused by unextinguished cigarettes.
The tragedy led to an outpouring of grief across the local community, with vigils, processions and tributes held in memory of the youngsters.
More to follow.