Chingford News

‘Dangerous’ lock may have trapped woman in burning home, inquest hears

The care company was advised not to install a combination lock on the inside of her door
By Nadoya Reid

Ashlie (inset) died at a Chingford home for disabled adults (courtesy of family/LAS_HART)
Ashlie (inset) died at a Chingford home for disabled adults (courtesy of family/LAS_HART)

A woman killed by a fire at a Chingford home for disabled adults was potentially trapped in her burning flat by a lock fitted to the inside of her door, a jury heard. 

In April 2018, 46-year-old Ashlie Timms, who lived at Connington Court in Connington Crescent, was found dead in the hallway of her flat after a fire in the early hours of the morning. 

The door to Ashlie’s flat was fitted with a combination lock on the inside, meaning she had to enter a code to exit, against the advice of the company hired to install it.

While the fire alarm going off should have caused the door to automatically open, firefighters found that two other locks in the building had malfunctioned on the night of the fire. 

Fire expert Colin Todd described the fitting of such a lock on the inside of Ms Timms’s door as “dangerous” at her inquest, given her mental and physical disabilities.

He suggested that, on the night of the fire, Ashlie may not have realised her door had unlocked and entered her code wrong more than once, which could have caused it to lock again.

He added: “The fitting of the lock inside Ms Timms door contravenes with the building regulations.” 

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Patrick Roche, a lawyer representing Ashlie’s family, also speculated that she “may not have realised that the door automatically unlocked” but suggested: “If she had forgotten the code, she probably would not have tried to open the door.”

When questioned about the lock, the home’s manager at the time Sonia Sandhu broke down, telling the jury: “I did not think she had issues using the lock. We had done multiple trials… Ashlie responded well and had shown she was good with the keypad.”

However, regarding previous fire drills at the home, she said: “If Ashlie was in a low mood or confused, she would not participate and would require encouraging to leave her room.” 

The jury also heard from Ashlie’s social worker at Hertfordshire Council, Peter McVicar, that she complained about forgetting the code only four months before the fire. 

Peter said the decision to install the lock was a “flaw in logic”, adding: “Not only in case of the fire, but if she was ever in a hurry it would have been hard to remember.” 

The home is owned by Sequence Care and, in a written statement submitted to the coroner, CEO Tony Hegarty insisted fire safety “was properly assessed and planned for”.

However, at the inquest, the company’s acting chief operating officer Robert Dalrymple accepted he would not “be comfortable having the same procedures in place now” at the home.

Despite this, he denied that there were “complete failures” of fire safety.

The jury finished hearing evidence on 5th March and a verdict is expected soon.

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