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Inquest hears of rescue attempt

PUBLISHED: 11:26 28 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:54 03 March 2010

A BRAVE attempt to rescue two teenagers from a smoke-filled bedroom was foiled when a friend was beaten back by fierce flames, an inquest heard.

The blaze took hold at the home of 18-year-old Robert Giles in Holland Road, Felixstowe, at around 3am on August 29, killing him and his friend William Stokes, 19, of Bawdsey, near Woodbridge, who was staying over at the house.

A BRAVE attempt to rescue two teenagers from a smoke-filled bedroom was foiled when a friend was beaten back by fierce flames, an inquest heard.

The blaze took hold at the home of 18-year-old Robert Giles in Holland Road, Felixstowe, at around 3am on August 29, killing him and his friend William Stokes, 19, of Bawdsey, near Woodbridge, who was staying over at the house.

It was most likely started by a candle falling over or burning dangerously low, yesterday's hearing in Ipswich was told, after a group of friends had spent the evening drinking and socialising.

One of the friends, Benjamin Mason, who was sleeping on a sofa two floors below, said he had heard a smoke alarm bleeping soon after the blaze began.

In a statement read to the inquest, he said: "I ran upstairs shouting 'fire' and went into Rob's room and saw the flames. I saw Will lying on the floor groaning and slapped him round the face to try and wake him, but there was no response. I found it hard to breathe so went back down the stairs."

But, despite the attempts of their friends, the pair – both pupils at Farlingaye High School - died from inhaling smoke and fumes. Their bodies were identified from dental records and both teenagers, who had been drinking, had probably died without waking, the hearing was told.

Dr Peter Dean, coroner for Greater Suffolk, recorded two verdicts of accidental death and said: "This was one very tragic accident which caused two very, very tragic deaths."

Musician Robert had moved out of his home in Coddenham, near Ipswich, and left for Holland Road two weeks before the fatal blaze, the hearing was told. His mother Margaret had also left the village to start a new teaching life abroad.

William's father Christopher Stokes, a police officer, spoke at yesterday's inquest to pay tribute to his eldest son, who had "great affection" for his friends and family.

On the night of the tragedy, the pair had spent the evening with friends Andrew Perry, Paul Fitzsimmonds, Thomas Morris-Thurgood and Benjamin Mason. The group had been drinking whisky, rum and cider and apart from a brief visit to a Felixstowe pub, spent the night socialising at the Holland Road house.

Mr Morris-Thurgood said Robert, who was lead guitarist in the band Boot50, had five guitars in his room and the others had sung as he played songs. Mr Perry and Mr Fitzsimmonds had left the house but Robert and William were still up at 2.30am.

The room had been lit by around six candles, he said, some placed inside empty bottles, on the window ledge, on a storage unit near a television and resting on a skateboard. The blaze is thought to have taken hold around 3am and firefighters were called after software engineer Chem Chum, who rented a room at the house, dialled 999.

Paul Seager, assistant divisional officer at Suffolk Fire Service, said Robert's body was found sitting in an armchair while William was on the floor, indicating they had not been awoken by the smoke and had died before they could react.

The fire, which started from a storage unit, was largely contained to the bedroom, causing its ceiling to collapse, but a thorough examination had failed to find a definite cause.

"The most likely scenario is that a lighted candle had fallen over on top of the storage unit or that the candle had burned down to a level near some sheets of paper," said Mr Seager. But the inquest was told that a defect in the television could not completely be ruled out as the fire's origin.

The house's owner Richard Bryant, who said he lived at the house when in the area, told the inquest fire safety standards had been adhered to, and alarms were tested before Robert moved in.

His evidence followed that of Peter Kerridge, Suffolk Coastal District Council's environmental health officer for housing, who said the house's previous owner had been told the property should not be filled with numerous tenants.

After the inquest he said no retrospective action would be taken against Mr Bryant as it was unclear how long more than one tenant had been in the house. But he added that safety checks would be carried out at similar houses in the area.

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