Wednesday 7 December 2016

Teenage girl killed in house fire left voicemail for friend pleading, 'Help me'

Published 14/11/2016 | 14:53

Ellen Finnegan
Ellen Finnegan

A teenager phoned a friend for help before she died in a house fire but was unable to get an answer, an inquest was told.

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Ellen Finnegan, 18, from Castlewellan, Co Down, left a voicemail with her sleeping friend. The young student sounded calm but drunk in the early morning recording last winter, police said.

A cigarette or an electrical appliance started the blaze, a coroner found.

Her last known words were: "Help me."

Miss Finnegan's father, Bartley Finnegan, was not at their Lower Square home and had been due to go skiing the following day.

She was three-and-a-half times over the drink-drive limit, forensic analysis revealed, following a night out at Quinn's Bar in Newcastle last January.

A tearful Sara Gorman said she had driven Miss Finnegan home and some others had helped carry her into the house.

She was left at the top of the stairs wrapped up with a duvet and pillow after she would not stay in bed. Ms Gorman discovered the voicemail left on her phone the following morning after she got home.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson said: "Sadly this case does highlight the very grave risks involved when alcohol is involved, in particular heavy consumption of alcohol.

"I hope that lessons can be learned."

There was no smoke alarm and the blaze was discovered by a Roads Service worker out gritting, who called emergency services.

Firefighters found Miss Finnegan's body in the bedroom of the house. She died from smoke inhalation, a pathologist's report revealed.

A senior firefighter said he was unable to determine why the blaze started. There was intense burning to the floor in the doorway of the bedroom where Miss Finnegan was found.

An electric heater was in the house, Mr Finnegan said.

Forensic scientist Alan Johnston was unable to be definitive about the cause but suggested it may have been from an electrical heater plugged into a hallway socket or careless disposal of cigarettes.

He said the most extensive damage was in the doorway area of one of the bedrooms, where the fire had burned through the floor into the ceiling of a butcher's shop below.

A box of matches was found in the bathroom. But Ms Gorman said her friend left her cigarettes in her car.

Parts from an electrical appliance were recovered.

Mr Johnston could find no electrical appliances plugged in but there was a lead on the landing which had been broken and burned away.

The coroner said Miss Finnegan died from smoke inhalation during the house fire.

Belfast Telegraph

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