Woman killed in Bedford explosion 'after dousing noisy neighbour's flat with petrol'

A woman who died following an explosion and fire in a block of flats in Bedford has been named as Reena James. 
Credit: Unknown
Reena James died in an explosion at Redwood Grove flats in Bedford on 4 July last year.

A woman was killed when she blew up the block of flats where she lived, an inquest has heard.

Reena James, 43, caused an inferno after using a hammer to smash her way into a noisy neighbour’s home in Bedford, the hearing was told.

She poured petrol over the surfaces and used a naked flame to set the vapour alight on 4 July.

It caused an explosion that could be heard half a mile away, and residents jumped to safety out of windows as fire ripped through the three-storey block in Redwood Grove, which later collapsed.

A coroner on Tuesday concluded that she died by misadventure, after a day-long hearing at Bedfordshire Coroner's Court.

The explosion ripped through the three-storey building in Redwood Grove. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Three people were taken to hospital - a firefighter and a resident with smoke inhalation and another resident with leg injuries.

The inquest at Ampthill was told that a neighbour had tried to rescue Ms James, who had lived alone in a ground floor flat of the building since 2010. Her body was found in his flat.

The court heard that Ms James did not get on with her upstairs neighbour, and that their relationship had deteriorated further during the coronavirus lockdown when she was working from home.

She complained to the management company about the neighbour who, she said, put her washing machine on, exercised early in the morning and shouted at her children.

Ms James had complained to the police, councillors and her landlord about her problems, the inquest was told.

Opening the inquest, Bedfordshire senior coroner Emma Whitting said: “At around 9.30am on 4 July last year there was an explosion and substantial fire in the block of flats in Redwood Grove flats.“The fire spread causing catastrophic damage to the structure.”

The building at Redwood Grove was gutted by fire after the explosion. Credit: Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue

Fire investigator Trevor Gradwell-Smith said: “The petrol was spread across surfaces and formed a mist which when mixed with air created a vapour cloud. 

"The cause of the fire was ignition by a naked flame.”

He said the explosion sent a window frame flying 50m on to an industrial roof. Glass was found 20-30m from the building.

Mr Gradwell-Smith said a neighbour from flat 286 had tried to pull Ms James to a place of safety after the explosion. She was found in the living area of his flat.

Petrol residue was found on Ms James' pyjama bottoms.

He added: “We located a claw hammer which we believed was used to forced entry.”

But he said no container that would have been used to hold the petrol had been found.

He said it was not until the following day that they were able to confirm there were no more casualties.

Pathologist Dr Virginia Fitpatrick-Swallow found the cause of Ms James' death to be head and chest injuries following an explosion that probably threw her hard against a wall.

“She would have been unconscious within milliseconds of explosion,” she said.

There were no traces of alcohol or other substances in her body.

Burns and trauma specialist Niall Martin said he believed Ms James was unconscious but not deceased immediately after the explosion. He said she would have had “waning signs of life” for up to 30 minutes before finally succumbing.

Dr Fitzpatrick-Swallow said a brain expert said Reena would have been unconscious but survived for over an hour.The coroner concluded she died of misadventure. She said the cause of death was blast injuries.She said: “There is no evidence to suggest she meant to do harm to herself. It seems clear she did intent to light a fire of some sorts.

"She did not intend the consequences let alone her own death.”

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