Woman '˜reported fault with wheelchair' before dying in flat fire

A DISABLED woman died in a blaze at her flat, shortly after reporting a 'wee problem' with her electric wheelchair.

Leyon Drive in Inverness, the street on which Barbara Anderson lived. Picture: Google Maps

Barbara Anderson suffered fatal smoke inhalation in the bedroom of her flat at Leyton Drive in Inverness, in August 2013.

There was “extensive fire damage” in the area of her electric wheelchair, a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) heard.

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Procurator fiscal Geoffrey Mayne said the medical physics department at NHS Highland, which deals with electric wheelchairs, said it had experienced no previous difficulties with her wheelchair but received a voicemail from Miss Anderson shortly before the fire.

He narrated the text of the call to the inquiry: “I have just had a wee problem with my chair. The lights on the control panel are flashing on and off from time to time. I think it might be the control panel. Could somebody come out to see me. Thanks. Bye.”

The hearing was also told how neighbour Susan Scott battled in vain to break into the flat below her after hearing the smoke alarm going off.

Miss Anderson, 51, who had spina bifida, was a former civilian employee of Northern Constabulary.

At the FAI into her death at Inverness Sheriff Court, her neighbour Susan Scott, who lives in the flat directly above Miss Anderson, said she was in her bathroom at around 7am when she heard what she thought was an alarm clock going off and then realised it was a smoke alarm.

Ms Scott, a secretary, told the inquiry: “I could tell the alarm was close but I could not tell where it was coming from.

“There was no smell of smoke or any sign of smoke or anything like that.

“I could hear there was a bump and I could hear Barbara,” she said. “I went back out on to the landing and I thought I could smell smoke so I went downstairs.

“I was banging on her door and shouting for her. I tried the door but it was locked. I was speaking to the emergency services when I got to Barbara’s door. I was still trying to get Barbara. I was shouting but there was no response.”

She went on: “I went out the back as Barbara’s bedroom window was always open. It was shut. I could not get it open. It felt warm. It was not hot, it was not burning my fingers but it was warm. You could feel the heat.”

A tearful Ms Scott told Sheriff Gordon Fleetwood: “I went to the bathroom window but it was shut as well. I could not get anything to break the windows.

“The chap from upstairs came down and I asked him for help and then we could hear the sirens.”

Earlier, procurator fiscal Geoffrey Mayne told the inquiry Miss Anderson had extensive burn injuries to the rear of her head and torso. He said smoke inhalation in association with a medical condition related to her spina bifida was the cause of death.

He said the fire had been contained to the bedroom where there was “extensive fire damage” in the area of her electric wheelchair.

The inquiry continues.