Fire that killed Stubbington woman could have been arson

INVESTIGATION Police at the scene of the fire in a flat in Spencer Court, Stubbington
INVESTIGATION Police at the scene of the fire in a flat in Spencer Court, Stubbington
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A FIRE that tore through a flat and killed a woman with cerebral palsy may have been started deliberately, a coroner has ruled.

The death of 54-year-old Alison Leverton was the subject of an inquest in Portsmouth yesterday.

Mrs Leverton died on September 2, 2012, when a fire took hold in the living room of her one-bedroom ground-floor flat at Spencer Court, Stubbington.

Andy Earl, fire investigation officer for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, told the court a thorough investigation had found the most likely cause to be somebody striking a match. No evidence was found of matches but he said the fire was so intense that any matches would have been incinerated.

He said it could not be ruled out that Mrs Leverton had not struck the match herself, although her family contested her ability to do so because of her disability, which affected the use of her arms.

Mrs Leverton was found on the floor of the bedroom wearing knee-high boots and a thermal vest, although when her aunt had dropped her off earlier in the evening she was wearing brown flat shoes.

When fire crews arrived her front door was open.

The court heard Mrs Leverton’s husband died a few years ago, and she had a boyfriend, who was not at court.

The inquest heard she would often fantatise and make up stories, including telling people two years ago that she was marrying her friend Malcolm Wendes.

Mr Wendes denied they were in a relationship, saying they were just friends. He said: ‘Me and Alison never fell out, we were true friends.’

Statements from neighbours said they heard banging, as if furniture was being moved around, shortly before the fire.

Neighbour Marie Condon said: ‘I can only describe it as if a struggle was taking place, however I did not hear voices.’

The court also heard that Mrs Leverton had been seeming down, and had possibly not been taking her prescribed anti-depressants.

The pathologist statement confirmed Mrs Leverton had died from smoke inhalation.

Coroner David Horsley said: ‘It is impossible to say whether someone else has started this fire deliberately or accidentally or if Alison had started it deliberately or accidentally. There just isn’t enough evidence... I have to return an open verdict.’

Her brother Andrew Betsworth said: ‘She was not a suicidal person. All she wanted to do was get on with her life.’

Her sister Sandra Riches added: ‘The family are not happy with the verdict of the inquest and we will be going back to the police to relook into things.’