Hackney squat fire inquest verdict

PUBLISHED: 17:18 06 March 2013 | UPDATED: 17:18 06 March 2013

Fire crews were battling the blaze for hours

Fire crews were battling the blaze for hours

Photo copyright Tony Hardiman/FR Pix

The fire broke out in a disused former hostel for recovering alcoholics in Lower Clapton Road, Clapton, in the early hours of Saturday August 4 and a man was initially arrested for arson.

A blaze which led to the deaths of two squatters was probably caused by a candle, an inquest heard.

The fire broke out in the disused former hostel for recovering alcoholics in Lower Clapton Road, Clapton, in the early hours of Saturday, August 4 last year and a man was initially arrested for arson.

Around 40 firefighters spent several hours tackling the flames which tore through the three-storey building, which was officially opened by Princess Diana in the early 1980s.

They found Polish national Krzysztof Waleczek, 32, of no fixed address, dead next to his dog on the second floor after suffering smoke inhalation.

Meanwhile, Lukas Gorko-wski, 31, also from Poland and of no fixed abode, was forced to jump out of a 25ft high window to escape the fire. Despite multiple bone fractures including a fractured skull, spine and ribs, a haemorrhage from bleeding inside his skull, abdominal injuries, airway burns, as well as 20 per cent burns to his body, he survived for a month, Poplar Coroner’s Court heard.

The former heroin user and alcoholic endured an operation to rejoin his bowel and repair his collapsed right lung before he was transferred to the Broomfield specialist burns unit in Chelmsford.

He then suffered sepsis and multi-organ failure and was put on the Liverpool Care pathway – a palliative care programme – before he died a month later on September 6.

The inquest was told how Jamaican musician Gerald Barton and his girlfriend Anna, both in their 20s, had returned to the building on the night of the fire after a trip.

They drank a bottle of wine together before joining Mr Waleczek and Mr Gorkowski in his room, lit by two candles. The inquest heard how they played music together for two hours and smoked cannabis before the pair returned to their bedroom, to be woken by the smell of burning some time later.

They were rescued off the roof of a porch and treated for in hospital for smoke inhalation.

The fire was so intense it removed plaster from the walls and gutted the first floor. The majority of its contents were found on the floor below.

The illegally occupied building, where fire investigators found intravenous needles in almost every room, had no electricity so its four permanent inhabitants would use candles or naked flames. The London Fire Brigade and police investigated the cause of the fire but found nothing suspicious.

Coroner, Dr William Dolman, said: “No one had poured petrol to start the fire by arson, there was no electricity in the house but there were naked flames, the facts speak for themselves.”

He returned verdicts of accidental death.

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