An inquest into a house fire that killed a two-year-old girl in her Blue Mountains home on April 2018, has been unable to conclude it was deliberately lit, despite many “suspicious circumstances.”
Deputy state coroner Carmel Forbes said in findings published on Monday that it could also have been an electrical fault that burned the Capertee house to the ground.
The toddler was the only person in the house who did not survive the devastating blaze, which was reported to emergency services by a stranger who spotted rising smoke.
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One of the toddler’s five maternal half-siblings, who was four at the time and present when the blaze started, had previously accused their mother of lighting it.
Both parents denied those claims, the findings stated.
Other suspicious circumstances “that could support a finding that the fire was deliberately lit” included the family’s recent eviction from the home, a detail the parents didn’t mention in their police interviews.
Forbes also cited evidence that the toddler’s mother had previously tried to give away the toddler, who lived with a disability and had walking difficulties that required regular physio appointments.
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An unusual number of jerry cans filled with petrol were also found on the property, and the parents were found to have a history of drug use and mental illness, which could have been behind what Forbes called an “unusual response” to the fire when it occurred.
Witnesses at the scene described the mother’s reaction as “unbelievably calm” and paramedics had to stop the father from nodding off in the ambulance.
“These unusual circumstances are certainly worthy of pause and consideration,” Forbes said.
“However, I am not satisfied that they are of a quality on their own, or together, to support a positive finding that the fire was deliberately lit by AW’s mother or AW’s dad.”
The smoke alarm was also facing upwards on top of the fridge, rendering it largely ineffective, and the 100-year-old home with no hot water was found to have an ad hoc electrical system.
A cigarette left unattended or an electrical fault were also possible causes of the fire, Forbes said.
An inquest into the Blue Mountains house fire that killed a two-year-old girl has found it could not prove her parents intentionally lit it. Credit: Google Maps/ NSW Communities and Justice
Prompting changes for child protection
The family had been involved with the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) in the years before the fire, but their Family Action Plan ceased a year before the fire occurred, just months after caseworkers assessed a “high” risk of future harm.
A total of 32 reports against the toddler’s parents had been received by DCJ by 2018, 23 of which were deemed a Risk of Significant Harm.
A DCJ review following the toddler’s death found that caseworkers did not identify the ongoing risk to the toddler and her siblings, and that they “should not have stopped working with the family.”
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