Tragic fire victim was prostitute
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
A WOMAN who died in a house fire in Newry city centre had been working in the property as an £80 an hour prostitute.
An inquest into the death of Melanie Clarke heard that the 43-year-old died from the inhalation of carbon monoxide and cyanide gases following a fire at 4 St George's Lane on January 12 this year.
The fire was most likely caused by a candle which toppled over and this may have been knocked over by Ms Clarke collapsing as she suffered from blackouts due to diabetes.
The inquest heard that the deceased, originally from Birmingham, had been travelling to Northern Ireland since October of last year to work as an escort. A statement from her daughter, Patricia Clarke was read out in which she said that she was aware that her mother was working as an escort and that she was doing so in order to "make life better for us." A police officer also informed the coroner that at one stage the deceased had been in the witness protection programme under the name 'Sara Cox'. Her real identity had been confirmed, however, "within 12 hours."
Although the fire was originally thought to be suspicious by police, it was confirmed to the Coroner, Mr Jim Kitson that the police were now satisfied that it was an accident. A forensic scientist confirmed that no evidence of accelerants were found in the house nor any evidence of electrical faults. Most of the damage to the house was confined to the living room.
The assistant State Pathologist, Dr Peter Ingram told the inquest that the autopsy found evidence of faint marks around the eyes and neck of the deceased. He said that these were most likely caused by Ms Clarke having had a severe coughing fit before she died which was consistent with someone suffering from smoke inhalation. He said that there were no fractures upon examination of the vertebrae and neck. He said that the possibility of strangulation was "very remote." When pressed by Mr Kitson on this point, he concluded that the possibility was so remote that it could be discounted and that "death is a process rather than an event."
The pathologist also informed the coroner that paracetamol, alcohol and cocaine were found in Ms Clarke's system but not at levels which would have contributed to her death.
Summing up, the Coroner, said that this was a "very sad case" of a woman coming to Northern Ireland only to tragically lose her life. Although evidence was heard that, on a previous occasion, Ms Clarke had expressed concerns to the owner of the property that she felt under threat due to the presence of an individual outside the house, he was satisfied that this was not connected to the fire.
He found that: "She was diabetic and as a result of her condition she was prone to sudden collapse. This would render her completely incapable. Most likely and on balance, a candle was knocked over which ignited soft furnishings."
He further said that it was "clear that Melanie Clarke was alive when the blaze started but had suffered a diabetic collapse and was unable to extricate herself from the situation."
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