Mum didn't mean to set herself alight

A SERIES of 'cries for help' ended in tragedy after a Langold mother accidentally set fire to herself, an inquest heard this week.

Teresa Ashwell, 42, of Williams Street poured petrol over herself and locked herself in a toilet at Bassetlaw Hospital before the cigarette lighter she was holding ignited the fumes. She had told staff 'now will someone take notice of me?'

At the inquest on Tuesday the court heard how Mrs Ashwell, who was being treated for depression since the death of her daughter last year, had tried to self harm in the past.

Teresa had threatened to drive her car into a tree and phoned the hospital, where she was a day patient, from a motorway bridge. She had never tried to commit suicide before.

Coroner Dr Nigel Chapman recorded a verdict of accidental death at the inquest which was held at Retford Town Hall.

I have no indication that she intended to die. Looking at it this is a tragic accident. She intended not to set it alight but to call for help," he said.

"She held the lighter away from herself and it was the fumes that went up. There is no evidence that she put the flame to herself. This was something that went tragically wrong."

This is the second tragedy to strike the family in two years. Teresa's 18-year-old daughter Cheryl was killed in a car crash on the A60 in January 2005.

Mrs Ashwell, who leaves two other children Simon, 20, and Toni, 16, had been treated for depression at the day unit at Bassetlaw Hospital since November 2004. Four months after the death of Cheryl, Teresa was sectioned at Bassetlaw Hospital until she was discharged in September 2005.

On 12th December 2005 Teresa was at the day unit for a routine appointment. At around 1.10pm she poured petrol from a can over her head before locking herself in a toilet cubicle which could not be opened from the outside.

Staff members raised the alarm and followed Mrs Ashwell but she did not respond to their pleas with her to come out.

The cigarette lighter she was holding is understood to have set the fumes alight and Mrs Ashwell was taken to Sheffield's Northern General Hospital where she died a day later of extensive burns between 70 and 80 per cent.

Michael Jones, a ward manager at the hospital was in the toilets with Teresa when the fire started.

"I had to get down on the floor to see what was happening. I knew she was not a smoker. Teresa was leaning against the door. At full stretch in her left hand was a lighter which was ignited. I would think it was the fumes which ignited," he said.

"We all tried to do our best to handle a very difficult situation."

One member of staff kicked open the door and used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out. They found Teresa inside.

"We did not waste any time. I ran to try and get a tool to open the door," said Lisa Richardson, an occupational therapist who described Teresa as a very kind and considerate person.

"The paramedics were already in the building. I couldn't get to Teresa before the fire started. The fire brigade arrived after four minutes. The whole incident lasted around five minutes," she said.

Teresa was born in Glastonbury and was a housewife with three children. She moved to Langold in 1999.

Speaking about his wife, Tony Ashwell said she had a lot on her mind but bottled it up.

The court heard that Teresa had several mood swings and that she had taken too many tablets but had always informed staff or friends of what she had done.

She had been visiting consultant psychologist Dr Margaret Inch at Bassetlaw Hospital who said that although Teresa's behaviour was risky she believed she did not mean to kill herself.

"My opinion is that she expected staff to intervene and save her. I am not sure she understood the level of risk. She was aware she was being very closely observed. She knew staff would step in and prevent her from harming herself."

Following the inquest Dr Chapman offered his condolences to the family.

"I don't think any words can convey what you have gone through losing your daughter and wife. Our words of sympathy won't mean anything but our hearts go out to you."

Speaking after the inquest Tony Ashwell said: "We are all very relieved."