Den-death brothers’ ‘obsession with fire not known’

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Professionals did not think fire safety was a “presenting or imminent problem” at the family home of two brothers who died when a blaze swept through their makeshift den, a report said.

Lewis Jenkins, seven, and five-year-old Taylor were found huddled together in a camp they made using duvets, sheets and a clothes airer under the stairs at home.

Taylor in particular was “absolutely obsessed” with fire and had been caught setting paper alight upstairs, a three-day inquest into their deaths heard in October.

However professionals who were working with the family following concerns over domestic abuse and the boys’ behaviour knew nothing of their fascination with fire, the report said.

It added that their parents appeared to have known about the obsession but failed to ensure fire safety measures were in place before they died on October 4, 2008.

The boys’ bodies were discovered by emergency teams in their hideout where a disposable lighter, tealight candles and an aerosol can were also found.

Investigators said it was likely the boys started the fire themselves at their rented three-bedroom house in Eastbourne, East Sussex, due to their access to lighting materials.

A serious case review published by the East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board said “opportunities were missed to develop a fuller picture of what was going on and what standards of parenting” the boys received.

The report’s executive summary said: “Fire safety within the family home was not considered by any professional working with this family to be a presenting and imminent problem because the fact of the fascination with fire from both children was not known to workers.

“Their parents, who appear to have known about this, did not act to ensure that adequate fire safety measures were in place.”

The inquest into the boys’ deaths heard depressing accounts of their lives living in an environment with no routine. Despite their young age, they routinely stayed up until the early hours, slept where they wanted around the house and were rude and disruptive.

The report said their father, Stewart Jenkins was seen as a “pernicious influence” and had subjected their mother Denise Goldsmith to “totally unacceptable” violence which had impacted on the boys.

Ms Goldsmith escaped the burning building through a window wearing just her night-clothes before dialling 999 from a nearby phone box.

In her evidence at the inquest, she admitted she was not in a fit state to look after her sons on the day of the fire because she had binged on vodka into the early hours.

Following publication of the report, Cathie Pattison, chair of the East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board, said she was satisfied that agencies involved in the boys’ welfare had already acted on recommendations made.