An intense blaze ripped through a family home, killing an 84-year-old retired teacher and her 53-year-old solicitor son, an inquest heard.
The fire destroyed much of the detached four-bedroom house in in Manor Close, Camblesforth, near Selby, on 19 June, 2022.
Disabled widow Muriel Sim and her son Iain Scott Sim, who was born in Fulford, York, never made it out. Now a coroner has ruled their deaths were accidental, despite police suspicions that the fire was started deliberately.
The inquest, held yesterday (Thursday) at Northallerton Coroners’ Court, heard that the blaze had started in Mr Sims’ bedroom, where traces of lighter fluid were found.
It spread rapidly to the landing where an open wardrobe, a bookcase and other combustible material went up in flames.
Mrs Sim, who was wheelchair-bound, was escorted from her bedroom by her other live-in son, John Sim. But he couldn’t get her downstairs because the fire had cut the electricity, powering off the stairlift.
John Sim went downstairs to call the fire service. As he did so, the blaze engulfed the attic, roof and stairwell, causing the roof and ceiling to collapse.
Burning material on the landing fell onto the wooden staircase, trapping the elderly woman on the first floor which was quickly engulfed by flames.
John was rescued by a man who was passing in his car when he saw flames coming from the upstairs windows of the property.
The passer-by, known only as Steve, then borrowed ladders from the Sims’ neighbours. He climbed up to try and rescue Mrs Sim from the window.
He managed to grab her arm, but it kept slipping from his grasp, and he was beaten back by the heat and flames.
A post-mortem revealed that Mrs Sim and her son died from smoke inhalation and the effects of fire.
John Sim told his neighbour that his brother had been drunk and had started the fire deliberately “because he wanted to kill himself”. But he told the inquest that he said this when his emotions were running high and he “wasn’t thinking clearly”.
“I don’t think that now,” he added.
Iain Sim had asked his brother to help him move his mattress at 4.30am.
John smelled smoke and saw a small, glowing circle patch on the mattress. He doused it with water.
He told his brother to get more water from the bathroom as flames spread to the wardrobe, but then Iain was “nowhere to be seen”.
Mr Sim then saw his brother lying face-down on the landing, which he said was probably due to alcohol rather than injury at that point.
Two fire crews from Selby and Snaith were quickly on the scene, but the house was already well alight.
Mrs Sims’ body was the first to be found by firefighters who used an aerial ladder to reach the first floor. Her son’s body was found at about 6.20am.
Under the influence
North Yorkshire fire officer Peter Gregory, who carried out the investigation into the blaze, said it was “unusual” for there to be two seats of fire and possibly a third at the doorway to Iain Sims’ bedroom.
There were traces of accelerants on the bed which “may have been involved” but only cigarette-lighter fluid – and there was no conclusive evidence to suggest that it was used to start a fire.
Mr Gregory said it was “most likely” that “smoking materials” had caused the fire.
He added that Iain Sim had caused a previous, albeit small, fire at the house a few months beforehand by smoking in his bed.
Superintendent Wayne Fox, who led the police investigation into the blaze, said he believed the fire had been started deliberately because it was multi-seated. His still held that view.
Iain Sims’ GP said he was a “problem drinker” who had suffered with anxiety in the past.
Jonathan Leach, assistant coroner for North Yorkshire, ruled out manslaughter and unlawful killing as it was “not possible to ascertain what [Iain Sims’] intention was” at the time of the blaze.
“Iain had drunk a considerable amount of wine and was presumably not thinking entirely straight,” added Mr Leach.
“I can’t be satisfied that the fire was started deliberately. In my view, that occurred because Iain was under the influence of alcohol and was smoking in bed.”
He recorded conclusions of accidental death in the cases of both Iain and Muriel Sim.
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