Death of woman, 75, in Mile End fire could have been avoided

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Pauline Oakley fell onto an electric heater at her flat in Southern Grove, Mile End. - Credit: Google Maps

A pensioner who died following a fire could be alive today if safety checks had been carried out at her home.

Pauline Oakley fell onto an electric heater at her flat in Southern Grove, Mile End in the early hours of April 3.

With limited mobility, the 75-year-old was unable to escape the flames and suffered burns to her throat, stomach, back, face and arms.

Neighbours heard the fire alarm go off, but ignored it. It wasn't until a friend called round at 8.50am that the emergency services were telephoned.

Ms Oakley was finally rescued about four hours after the fall at about 5am. She was rushed to the Royal London Hospital but sadly died that day.


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Following the inquest into her death, Jonathan Stevens, assistant coroner for inner north London, wrote to Eastend Homes and East London NHS Foundation Trust.

Mr Stevens raised the fire alarm with Eastend Homes, which manages the block of flats where Ms Oakley lived, in a prevention of future deaths report published on January 14.

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The report says neighbours may have assumed the device was monitored so there was no need to call 999.

The social housing provider informed the coroner the alarms were of an appropriate standard, properly installed and worked in a letter sent in October.

John Henderson, managing director, said EastendHomes was "deeply saddened by the tragic death" and fully co-operated with the coroner.

He said all homes are fitted with British Standard smoke alarms which are tested regularly while Eastend Homes works "closely" with London Fire Brigade on safety.

"This is an incredibly sad case. Our thoughts are with Pauline’s family and friends who we have been in contact with throughout and continue to offer our sincerest condolences," he added.

East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) is singled out in the report for not assessing the suitability of Ms Oakley's flat or appliances. She was discharged from hospital two days before the blaze.

An ELFT legal affairs manager at the inquest argued responsibility for an assessment lay with the council, according to a letter sent by ELFT in September.

The report notes there would not have been a fire if Ms Oakley had a modern heater, which would have had an in-built safety mechanism.

A spokesperson said ELFT was shocked and saddened by Ms Oakley's death and acknowledged the points raised in the report.

He added it is standard practice to ensure staff are alert to any risks to people's health or safety when doing home visits with advice given to patients and families.

"Our thoughts are with Ms Oakley's family and friends at this time," he said.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson the town hall was deeply saddened and is undertaking a safeguarding enquiry into the tragic event.

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