Coroner rules brain damaged Redcar woman who died 10 years after house fire was unlawfully killed

Catriona Braithwaite suffered severe brain injuries during the fire at her family home in Redcar. Credit: Gazette Media Syndication

A young woman who died 10 years after suffering severe brain damage in a fire at her Teesside home was unlawfully killed, a coroner has ruled.

Catriona Braithwaite suffered severe brain injuries during the fire in Redcar which was started by her father Philip Braithwaite in a bid to kill himself and his family.

Mr Braithwaite, 49, died at the scene and his seven-year-old daughter Jessica died in hospital the following day.

His other daughter, Catriona, was just nine at the time and although she was rescued she suffered brain injuries through lack of oxygen, leaving her needing specialist carers.

In August last year the 20-year-old, who also had cerebral palsy, was taken to James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, suffering from pneumonia and died on 1 September last year.

Investigations following the fire in May 2011 revealed Mr Braithwaite, who was suffering from mental health problems, had disconnected the home’s smoke alarms and brought a petrol can into the house.

He started the fire downstairs in the children's playroom of the family home on Hawthorn Road. The children were asleep upstairs at the time.

Philip Braithwaite was suffering from mental health problems in 2011 when he deliberately caused a fire in the family home. Credit: Gazette Media Syndication

The inquest into Catriona Braithwaite's death in Middlesbrough on Tuesday 28 June heard that her father had become depressed and had tried to take his own life on two previous occasions. However, he was not considered a risk to anyone else.

Coroner Claire Bailey said: "It seems he intended to kill himself and his family by setting fire to the family home. Notes left by Philip Braithwaite said he intended to kill himself and his family."

A statement read out in court by Ms Braithwaite's mother Christine, who was downstairs at the time of the fire and managed to escape through the thick, black smoke, said her daughter suffered severe brain damage and was left unable to move around or communicate much and was prone to chest infections.

She said: "The fire robbed Catriona of the life she could have had and ultimately led to her death."

The court heard Catriona, who lived at Mossdale Grove, Guisborough, initially started to respond to treatment in hospital, but then her condition rapidly deteriorated and a decision was made to initiate end of life care and she died a few days later.

Ms Bailey said the medical evidence showed that Catriona's cerebral palsy and the brain injury she received in the fire both contributed to her death.

She said police had informed her that had Mr Braithwaite survived he would be facing prosecution and potentially a murder charge.

The coroner said: "I am satisfied that Catriona was killed unlawfully."

Jessica Braithwaite, 7, died in a house fire deliberately started by her father. Catriona survived but suffered severe brain damage. Credit: Gazette Media Syndication

In July 2012 an inquest into the earlier deaths concluded that Mr Braithwaite had killed himself and Jessica had been unlawfully killed.

At the time it was stated that until August 2010, Mr Braithwaite was a good husband and a wonderful father who adored his children.

He became convinced of serious money problems, although his wife said finances were manageable.

After becoming ill, Mr Braithwaite, who ran his own health and safety consultancy firm was treated by mental health teams and at one point spent a six-week spell at the Roseberry Park unit in Middlesbrough.

On the night of the fire Mrs Braithwaite, who was watching television in a downstairs living room, became aware of the fire at about 11.30pm.

She told the inquest into her husband and Jessica's deaths: "As I walked out I was greeted by what I can only describe as an inferno.

"There was a wall of fire that appeared to reach the top of the door which completely filled the doorway with thick, acrid, black smoke gushing out of the room which was choking me.

"I was hysterical, I shouted out ‘what the hell have you done?’ I couldn’t understand how a fire could have got so big and intense so quickly.

"I ran towards the stairs and tried to go upstairs but was immediately choking on the smoke and couldn’t go up."

She then grabbed her mobile, rang 999 and ran into the street. Neighbours frantically tried to help but could not get past the flames.

Pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper told the hearing both dad and daughter died as a result of smoke inhalation.

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