St Leonards hospice patients were 'unlawfully killed'

Three patients who died after a fire at a St Leonards hospice were unlawfully killed, a coroner has concluded.

Jill Moon, 62, David Denness, 81, and Pearl Spencer, 78, died after the blaze at St Michael’s Hospice on July, 11, 2015.

The three patients who died after a fire at St Michael's Hospice were unlawfully killed

The three patients who died after a fire at St Michael's Hospice were unlawfully killed

An inquest into their deaths started in Hastings on Monday (November 18) and concluded today (Wednesday, November 20).

The proceedings had been postponed pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings against St Michael’s Hospice. The hospice was fined £250,000, in March 2018, after pleading guilty to two breaches in fire safety laws.

The inquest, which was attended by family members, representatives from the emergency services, and hospice staff, heard that shortly after midnight on July 11, 2015, a fire was started with a cigarette lighter by hospice patient Rodney Smith.

Mr Smith, who had been suffering from cancer, was charged with arson but died in jail, aged 67, before his trial.

David Denness died after the fire in 2015. Image supplied by Mr Denness' family

David Denness died after the fire in 2015. Image supplied by Mr Denness' family

On Wednesday, the inquest heard Mrs Spencer's death was caused by cardio respiratory collapse and cancer in a person extracted from a fire.

The inquest previously heard she died at the nearby Leolyn care home, where a number of patients were taken after the evacuation.

Both Mr Denness and Ms Moon died at Conquest Hospital from cancer in association with the inhalation of smoke, the inquest heard.

After the proceedings, Mr Denness' family said: "We welcome the verdict of the Coroner's court today.

"The fire at St Michael's Hospice was a tragedy.

"The inexplicable actions of Rodney Smith in starting the fire were exacerbated by the inadequate fire safety precautions and procedures in place at St Michael's Hospice, at the time.

"Three people including David Denness had their lives shortened as a result of the fire.

"We would like to put on record our gratitude and admiration for the hospice staff, fire fighters and police officers who facilitated the evacuation of patients. They selflessly put themselves at considerable personal risk and prevented this from being a greater tragedy with even wider consequences."

On Tuesday, senior coroner for East Sussex Alan Craze praised the work of the emergency services and the care home staff for showing 'immense courage' in saving the lives of many of the patients.

After the inquest, Irene Dibben, chairman of St Michael's Hospice, and Karen Clarke, chief executive of St Michael's Hospice, issued a joint statement which said: "The Coroner has reached a conclusion of unlawful killing due to the deliberate arson in relation to the deaths of Jill Moon, David Denness and Pearl Spencer.

"We remain truly sorry for the pain and suffering caused by the fire. Our thoughts are with the families and it was with deep sadness that we heard their moving tributes and experiences during the inquests.

"This act of arson had a devastating impact. Comprehensive improvements have been made at the hospice and following a recent inspection by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, the fire safety level within the building was described as 'exemplary'.

"We have always been immensely proud of our staff who showed terrific bravery on the night, helping patients out of the fire often without regard to their own safety.

"We are grateful to the coroner for publicly recognising the courage of our staff, firefighters and police officers, and agree with him that their actions were critical in saving lives."