Coroner says many people are unaware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

18th January, 2013

A coroner who recorded a verdict of accidental death on a teenage girl who died in a camping tragedy in Shropshire told members of her family:

“It’s quite clear that you and many, many people were unaware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“The risk you were addressing when you brought that barbecue in, in its dying embers, was against fire, said Coroner Mr John Ellery.

“That was a risk you acted against, but sadly what was happening was that carbon monoxide was coming from those embers.

“I accept that those vapours went to the top of the tent and probably found their way down to the far end, where tragically Hannah’s head was. That may well be the explanation why it was she who was so tragically affected.”

After recording his verdict, Mr Ellery offered his condolences to Hannah’s family, and expressed hopes that the inquest would serve the secondary function of raising awareness of the dangers posed by carbon monoxide.

Hannah’s mother, Danielle Jones, frequently wiped away tears as she told the inquest how paramedics informed her that her daughter could not be revived on the morning of Sunday, May 6.

Mrs Jones, who paid tribute to Hannah as a “beautiful and wonderful” person, said several members of her extended family were staying at the Baron of Beef campsite, where they watched the FA Cup Final in a pub on the evening before the tragedy.

Photo of Hannah smiling

After the football match had finished, the family had used the blue Tesco barbecue, which had three metal legs, to keep warm underneath a gazebo.

But after Hannah went to bed at about 10pm, the barbecue was moved into the porch of the tent she was sleeping in.

Mrs Jones, who said it was a cold night, told the coroner: “We decided to take the barbecue into the porch area of the tent.

“We took the lid off the cooker. We made sure that effectively it was fire-proof – that if anything fell out it wouldn’t catch fire.

“Obviously, we didn’t understand the dangers of the carbon monoxide.”

When she awoke the next morning, Mrs Jones’ arms and legs felt sore and she could not talk. “Then I remember a lot of shouting – I remember both the sides of the tent being opened,” she said.

“I just couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t breathe.”

Mrs Jones’ husband, Philip Jones, told the coroner the barbecue had “gone down” by the time it was placed in the tent, and was “like hot bricks giving off heat”.

Station manager Shaun Baker, of Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, recreated the effects of the barbecue during a detailed investigation of the incident.

The fire officer said strenuous efforts had been made to highlight the dangers posed by carbon monoxide associated with barbecues following several deaths in similar circumstances. Mr Baker told the hearing many people did not realise that “incomplete combustion” after flames had died down could result in the emission of carbon monoxide, which is odourless.

Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning – including headaches or dizziness – can mimic many common ailments, and may easily be confused with food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simply tiredness.

After reconstructing the incident using the same tent and the same type of barbecue, Mr Baker said he believed the fatal fumes had “pooled” in the area where Hannah was sleeping.

Hannah Thomas-Jones, 14, succumbed to the “silent killer” after gases from the barbecue collected in the area where she was sleeping, the hearing was told.

Hannah, from Handforth, near Wilmslow, Cheshire, was pronounced dead in May last year after paramedics were called to the campsite in Bucknell.

Three other family members, including Hannah’s mother and stepfather, were treated in hospital for the effects of carbon monoxide produced by the embers of the bucket-type barbecue.

Report and images courtesy of Shropshire Star.