‘Christmas Street’ fire deaths still a mystery

Blaze that killed two children was not caused by overload

MYSTERY still surrounds the exact cause of a fierce blaze which killed a brother and sister at their home in “Christmas Street”, a road where neighbours had staged a charity Christmas light contest.

Alex Goddard, six, and his sister Jade, five, perished in the fire at their home, which had been festooned with hundreds of fairy lights, in John Street, Thurnscoe, near Barnsley, on December 17.

Initially, police investigations centred on a possible fault in the lavish Christmas decorations.

However, at an inquest yesterday experts said that while the fire clearly started near a fibre optic Christmas tree, it was impossible to say what exactly had sparked the blaze.

An electrical engineer told the inquest at Sheffield that there was no evidence that the electrical system at the house was overloaded or dangerous.

In recording a verdict of accidental death on Alex and Jade Goddard, Coroner Chris Dorries said the family had suffered a tragedy in its most terrible form.

“What we know is that the blaze started in the corner of the dining room and we know there was electrical equipment in that corner.”

Some of the electrical items, including a fibre optic tree, had melted in the blaze and could not be examined. But, other items recovered were proven not to have been the cause of the fire.

“I think from what has been said that the cause of the fire was electrical in nature, but whether it was an item or was related to the wiring I do not know.”

The children’s parents Andrew and Mandy Goddard, whose youngest child Nathan, five, suffered serious injuries in the fire, were still too upset to attend the inquest.

In a statement read to the court Mr Goddard told how he struggled in vain to save his children.

At about 10.20pm on December 17, the couple had been watching TV when they heard a loud bang and were plunged into darkness as all the lights in the house clicked off.

Mr Goddard found the corner in the dining room occupied by a fibre optic christmas tree was blazing and the adjacent kitchen filled with smoke.

Unable to go through the rooms and upstairs, he climbed out of the window and went back into the house through the front door, then ran upstairs to rescue his children.

He grabbed Jade by the sleeve of her pyjama top and dragged her to the window, but in the smoke and confusion she slipped from his grasp.

Mr Goddard was then pulled from the first floor window by neighbour Gary Rhodes.

In other statements read to the court, neighbours described how they tried to get into the house to pull the children out, but were beaten back by the dense smoke and fierce heat.

Mrs Goddard had been pulled to safety through a ground floor window and Nathan was dragged out the house by his heels after he fell down the blazing stairwell.

A post mortem found that Jade and Alex both died from smoke inhalation, but the pathologist said the youngsters had received such extensive burn injuries that they would have been unlikely to survive.

Edward Halliday, the engineering manager at Barnsley Council, said extensive tests had revealed there were no faults with the electrical system.

He said although the family’s display of Christmas lights appeared to use many extension cables and double plugs, it had not overloaded the system.

Forensic scientist Jeffrey Grey, of the Forensic Science Laboratory in Wetherby, said he had not been able to identify in which piece of equipment the fire had started.

lyn.barton@ypn.co.uk