‘Daisy chain’ of electrical plugs caused fatal Houghton Regis house fire

Aftermath of the fire at Chelsea Gardens
Aftermath of the fire at Chelsea Gardens

‘Daisy chaining’ of electrical plugs – with two extensions from a single socket – led to a devastating fatal house fire, an inquest heard.

John Trevor Lawrence, 60, died after the fire in the early hours of March 2 at Chelsea Gardens in Houghton Regis.

Firefighters found Mr Lawrence dead in the downstairs living room. His civil partner David Amer was injured and taken to hospital, as was a next-door neighbour who attempted a rescue. Two dogs also died in the blaze.

A post mortem revealed Mr Lawrence died of carbon monoxide poisoning from smoke inhalation.

Fire investigator Steve Allen, station commander of Stopsley fire station, told Thursday’s inquest at Ampthill that he believed an electrical overload caused the fire.

It also emerged there was no smoke alarm in the house. Mr Allen said: “I attended in the morning following the fire in my role as a fire investigator.

“There was a single 13 amp wall socket in which was plugged an extension lead.

“There were two of those, one plugged into the other - a practice known as ‘daisy chaining’. There were ten available plugs each working from a single socket.

“This arrangement is something we would advise residents to avoid, we recommend one plug to one socket and would advise a householder not to daisy chain.

“It can lead to an electrical overload to the socket in use, leading to a situation where a fire is more sure to occur.”

The investigation found no fewer than ten plugs – for devices including mobile phone chargers, electric air fresheners, telephone answering machines and a lamp – all drew their energy from a single wall socket in the living room.

Mr Allen said: “On top of the leads, was two carrier bags of medication. We believe it was in use by Mr Lawrence. Also, scraps of fabric were recovered. This was an extremely severe fire, the level of destruction was huge.

“When questioning relatives, it was reported a fleece blanket was in that area and also scattered cushions. I believe they may have contributed if they laid on the top of the devices plugged in the lead. These plug-in air-fresheners and mobile phone devices all gather heat. In the first instance the insulation may have been significant once ignition had occurred.”

An ash tray was also discovered nearby.

Mr Allen added: “I still believe on balance of probabilities it was one of the electrical components that failed. I can’t 100% rule out smoking, but I doubt it.”

The inquest heard that plug-in air fresheners were likely being used against manufacturers’ recommendations, lying flat on the extension lead rather than plugged upright into a single socket.

Bedfordshire Mental Health and Wellbeing Service confirmed that Mr Lawrence had been under their care for alcohol-related issues and depression. His last dealing with them was on July 10, 2014 although he was known to have had a mental health assessment on December 16.

A report from his GP claimed he had not had alcohol for four months and was attending group therapy three times a week.

Mr Lawrence had lived for some years with his partner at Chelsea Gardens and neighbours described them as a quiet couple who kept themselves to themselves.

In his closing comments, assistant coroner Ian Pears said: “He [Mr Lawrence] went to bed as usual or was sleeping in the home and a fire occurred.

“The most likely cause of this is the daisy chaining of the socket and plugs, and as a result of that he died of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Allen said Beds Fire and Rescue Services offer free home fire safety visits and urged anyone to get in touch if they were concerned about fire safety in their home. He also emphasised the importance of working smoke detectors.