Crouch End man woke to find mother on fire

A 21-year-old man with learning difficulties woke up to find his mother screaming and on fire, an inquest heard.

Richard Ajyeman lived in a flat in Alyn Court, Crescent Road, Crouch End, with his 56-year-old mother Vivian Addo, who was suffering from psychiatric problems.

He had been having an afternoon nap on October 25 last year, when he woke up to find the flat filled with smoke. He walked into his mother’s bedroom and found her screaming and on fire, Barnet Coroners’ Court heard on Thursday (March 10).In a desperate bid to save her, Mr Ajyeman filled a bucket with water and poured it on her, before fleeing the flat to call the emergency services on his mobile phone because there was no reception inside.

The court heard how he told witnesses at the scene: “I’d been asleep and when I woke up my mum was screaming and on fire. I think I put the fire out.”

But Ms Addo died later that day after suffering more than 50 per cent burns.

Four other people living in the block of 24 flats were injured in the blaze. Two of them were taken to the Whittington Hospital for smoke inhalation, while two others were treated at the scene.

Fire investigation officer Mark Ross told the court that a disposable lighter next to the bed and physical evidence from the scene suggested that Ms Addo had set her bed clothes alight with a naked flame from the lighter.

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The court heard how the 56-year-old lady, who was single and unemployed, had a history of mental health problems. Since December 2007, she had been in contact with Haringey’s mental health unit. She had described hearing a male voice in her head who was telling her to self harm, the court heard. She also appeared to have an obsession with cotton wool and frequently wrapped herself in it, as well as placing it under her armpits and in her ears.

The inquest heard how her son had reported her increasingly bizarre behaviour to social workers, but his mother had not wanted to engage with Haringey’s psychiatric unit. He told them his mother, who was originally from Ghana, was talking in her first language and not eating properly.

Det Sgt Sean Channing, of Haringey’s Criminal Investigating Department, told the inquest into Ms Addo’s death, that police originally arrested her son because fire officers initially thought the fire was suspicious.

Det Sgt Channing said: “He didn’t have a criminal record, it was purely based on the fact that he was the only person who was there and he was unable to explain what happened.”

After making further enquiries, however, police discovered that Mr Ajyeman had a loving relationship with his mother and he was extremely supportive of her. They also ascertained that he had learning difficulties and he was released without charge.

The court heard that on a previous occasion Ms Addo had set fire to a pair of curtains in a different flat and her son had banned her from using candles as a preventative measure.

Caroline Sumeray, assistant coroner at Barnet Coroners’ Court, recorded an open verdict, saying: “I cannot say for sure what happened in this case. I don’t think anyone else apart from the unfortunate Ms Addo knows. However, it would appear she ignited herself or her clothes.”