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Monday, 22 September 2014

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Cumbrian nurse, 56, died after setting fire to house

A mother-of-three died after she set fire to her Whitehaven home.

Joyce Oldfield photo
Joyce Oldfield

Joyce Oldfield, 56, had “a history of mental illness’’ and suffered from depression, an inquest heard.

The West Cumberland Hospital staff nurse climbed into the loft of her home before “deliberately’’ setting fire to the opening hatch. She had been off work a year and had previously tried to kill herself.

The inquest, held at West Cumbria Courthouse in Workington, heard how neighbours were alerted by the smoke on October 9 last year. Mrs Oldfield was later found dead in the loft at Churchill Drive.

A note written by her was found at the house. No-one else was in the home at the time of the fire.

A post mortem revealed Mrs Oldfield’s cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.

In a statement read to the inquest, group manager for Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service Mike Smith said, in his opinion, Mrs Oldfield had taken a step ladder and flammable liquid from her garage.

She then used the ladder to climb into the loft, pouring liquid onto the hatch before lighting it with matches or a lighter. It was “deliberate ignition’’ he stated.

West Cumbria coroner, David Roberts concluded she had taken her own life.

Stephen Oldfield, Mrs Oldfield’s husband, told the inquest that prior to 2008 his wife had been “generally very happy, confident...normal’’. The couple, who enjoyed walking in the fells, had two sons and a daughter and had been married for nearly 30 years.

However, in 2008, she had stabbed herself in the chest and had left a note to her family. Mrs Oldfield was subsequently sectioned and referred to a mental health team.

Mr Oldfield said his wife had tried therapies and counselling, and had regular contact with a community psychiatric nurse, but had felt “overwhelmed with emotion’’.

The inquest heard how Mrs Oldfield had previously tried to get out of a travelling car driven by Mr Oldfield who was forced to grab her arm.

In another incident, she threw herself down a hill when the couple had been walking. Mr Oldfield said his wife “didn’t know why she did it’’ and he admitted to the inquest it had been “very scary’’.

Just before her death, Mrs Oldfield had received a further month’s sick note.

“This was a setback,’’ Mr Oldfield said. “She felt people were ignoring her, she felt guilty not being at work.’’

On the day before her death, she had become “tearful and anxious’’ he explained.

However, on the morning of October 9, his wife seemed “subdued’’ and was talking about watching television and doing some ironing.

“It felt normal,’’ Mr Oldfield said. So he decided to go to the gym.

An hour after leaving his home neighbours were calling the fire service.

“In hindsight,’’ he said, “she had a plan. She had thought it through.’’

Summing up, Mr Roberts said Mrs Oldfield had lived “a perfectly ordinary life’’ before 2008 but there wasn’t a “rational explanation for her feelings’’.

And he added that Mr Oldfield had been a “huge support’’ to his wife.

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