Smoke alarms could have prevented ‘needless tragedy’ in which two brothers died.

13/07/2020

The death of two brothers in a flat fire in Old Basford has been described as a ‘needless tragedy’ that could have been prevented had the property been fitted with working smoke alarms.

Benone (38) and Catalin Cojocaru (29) died in a fire at their flat at Vernon Court, Southwark Street, Nottingham in the early hours of 25 November, 2018. The cause of the fire was found to be accidental, as a result of damage to the cable supplying power to a fridge freezer.

At an inquest into the two brothers’ deaths on Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 July 2020, Assistant Coroner Jonathan Straw concluded that the deaths had been accidental due to the inhalation of the products of combustion.

At the time of the fire, he said, there was evidence to suggest that there were no working smoke alarms in the flat, despite the landlord, Alan Singh, insisting that smoke alarms and a heat detector had been part of the inventory for the property. 

The inquest heard that Benone and Catalin, both Romanian nationals, had travelled to the UK to work in the building industry. The shared their flat at Vernon Court with their younger brother Bogdan (23) and two other brothers from a different family, Stefan and Alexandru Michlita.

Reading from a statement given by Bogdan Cojocaru, Mr Straw said that the five occupants of the flat had returned home after work that evening and sat talking and drinking until approximately 11pm, when they went to bed.

In the early hours, Bogdan woke after hearing a loud bang. He described not being able to see anything, and the air being thick with smoke. After waking up Alexandru, the two made their way to the entrance to the flat. Bogdan describes seeing a large orange flame and thick smoke in the room where the fridge freezer was, and in which three of the occupants slept.  

The two men were joined by Stephan and were able to escape via a metal staircase at the rear of the property. They were later taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

In his statement Bogdan recalls calling the names of his two brothers who were still inside the flat, but he was unable to reach them due to the fire.

Mr Straw said: “Picture if you can the horror going through the minds of those men.

“The fire developed and spread very quickly and was most intense in the room where the two brothers were sleeping. All of the occupants were rendered confused and disorientated and were unable to get their bearings to get to the exit – this easily could have been five people who died.”

The inquest heard that fire crews had arrived at the scene within six minutes of the call to Fire Control. They were commended for their actions, along with Fire Investigator Tom Clark for his ‘comprehensive’ investigation into the cause.

Since 1 October 2015, it has been a requirement for landlords of private rented properties to ensure smoke detection is supplied for each storey of the property and a carbon monoxide alarm is provided where solid fuel is used. This is referred to as ‘The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015’, and can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications or via this link.

Mr Straw questioned whether the occupants of the property would have had cause to remove and dispose of the smoke alarms, had they been present.

He added: “I have every reason to suspect that if smoke alarms had been installed, Benone and Catalin would and could have got out of the property.

 “My sincere condolences go to the Cojocaru family in Romania, who are utterly bereft at the loss of their two sons in this needless tragedy.”

Fire Investigator Tom Clark, of Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “This is a tragic case and our deepest condolences go to the family of Benone and Catalin Cojocaru.

“This devastating outcome demonstrates the absolute necessity for smoke alarms to be fitted on every level of a domestic property and for them to be tested regularly.

“The vital early warning that a smoke alarm gives, enabling occupants to exit the property and dial 999, can be the difference between life and death.

“This particular incident also highlights the need for all electrical appliances to be maintained, in good working order, and free from obvious defects or damage, to reduce the risk of fire.”

© Copyright Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service
Accessibility Statement