‘Extremely remote’ chance cigarette started fatal fire that killed Heysham 94-year-old, Preston Crown Court told

The chance that a carelessly discarded cigarette started a fire which killed a 94-year-old woman was “extremely remote”, a murder trial has heard.

Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 4:50 pm

Tiernan Darnton, 21, is said to have “confessed” weeks later during a game of Truth or Dare with friends that he started the blaze at the bungalow of Mary Gregory, his stepfather’s mother, and then left the property.

His friends thought he was joking, but nearly a year after the May 2018 fire – which was thought to be a tragic accident – Darnton allegedly stated during a counselling session he set a curtain alight at the semi-detached home of Mrs Gregory in Heysham, Lancashire.

Following his arrest, Darnton told police that his Truth or Dare comments were not true and he neither deliberately or accidentally started the fire.

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The case into Mary Gregory's death is being heard at Preston Crown Court

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He said it was “patently obvious” the fire in the early hours of May 28 had started somewhere between the bed and the window in the front bedroom of the property in Levens Drive.

It had been burning for a period of time, he added, in a “slow progression” and was not a quick fire.

Mr Baxter said: “After reviewing the evidence it is my opinion the most likely explanation for the fire is that is started near the window of the front bedroom by naked flame ignition such as a match or a cigarette lighter.”

He also said there was evidence that a phone in the property had been unplugged before the fire and that one of the smoke alarms had been dismantled.

Asked by prosecutor David McLachlan QC whether it could have been caused by the dropping of a cigarette, the witness replied: “I couldn’t totally exclude that possibility but in my experience I consider the likelihood of that being the case to be extremely remote.”

The court heard Mr Baxter reviewed the case from photographic images and did not attend the scene of the fire, unlike Andrew Stone from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service who concluded the fire was accidental and the most likely explanation was a carelessly discarded cigarette.

Mr Stone maintains that conclusion, the court was told.

The jury also heard statements from a number of carers who regularly visited Mrs Gregory, who had dementia, and said they had never seen her smoke in the front bedroom.

Darnton, from Heysham, denies murder.

The trial continues on Thursday.