The heartbroken parents of a teenage girl today told an inquest how they accidentally poisoned her on a family camping trip after they put a smouldering barbecue inside the tent to keep her warm.
Hannah Thomas-Jones, 14, was found lifeless by her parents when they tried to wake her at a campsite behind the Baron of Beef pub in Bucknell, Shrops., on Sunday, May 6 last year.
Brother Ben, 11, mum Danielle, 30, and stepdad Phil Jones, 49, recovered in hospital from carbon monoxide poisoning.
But Hannah, who was “top and tailing” with Ben in a separate tent compartment was overcome because she was in a position where she was most exposed to the deadly fumes.
The family, from Handforth, near Wilmslow, Cheshire, were on a camping trip over the May Bank Holiday weekend with friends when the tragedy happened.
An inquest at Shropshire Coroners Court in Wem, heard her parents “didn’t understand” the risks of barbecue fumes.
Giving evidence, Mrs Jones broke down several times as she told how she and her husband decided to place the Tesco bucket barbecue inside the tent when the night-time temperature plunged.
She sobbed: “We lit a barbecue in the gazebo area.
“We lit that and put it in the gazebo to keep us warm as we were talking.
“We had bought it for that trip, we had never used it before.
“We had sat outside and it was cold and the barbecue had blown down and wasn’t smoking so we decided to take the barbecue into the porch area of the tent.
“I was worried about fire risk so we took the lid off the cooking stove and we placed that on the floor of the tent and made sure it was fire proof.
“We moved it out of the way of the walkway to make sure nobody would trip over.
“Obviously we didn’t understand the dangers of the carbon monoxide.
“We all had sleeping bags. Hannah and Ben had two because we anticipated it was going to be cold.
“We watched the football (FA Cup Final) in the pub and had a couple of drinks and we came back and sat in the gazebo and had a chat and were planning the following day.
“I put Hannah and Ben in bed at about 10pm-10.30pm and they went to sleep in the left-hand comportment.
“I gave them both a kiss, Hannah was sat up, on her phone at the time, on Facebook normally.
“I stayed up until about 11.30pm and we decided to go to bed in the tent.”
She painfully recalled to the inquest the moment she discovered her daughter was dead.
She said: “I woke up (on the Sunday morning) and remember being crouched in the corner. My arms and legs were really really sore.
“Philip had managed to open the compartment of the tent.
“He was in the porch area of the tent and he just looked deranged, he just didn’t look right.
“I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t say anything.
“I remember a lot of shouting and both sides of the tent being opened and I was still crouched.
“I saw him then pull Hannah and Ben out of the tent and Ben was moving. Hannah looked asleep.
“I remember being level with Hannah and I touched her face and she was warm.
“I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t breathe. I was taken out of the tent.
“The paramedic came in and told me Hannah had died and they couldn’t save her.”
Mr Jones, who also broke down several times in the inquest, added: “We took the barbecue into the tent because it had all gone down.
“We said we will put this metal thing on the floor to stop any embers falling down.”
When asked what risks they were preparing against when they brought the barbecue inside, Mr Jones added: “Just a fire risk.”
Family members and paramedics desperately tried to revive Hannah but the schoolgirl was confirmed dead at the scene at 10.32am by an air ambulance doctor.
The inquest heard she had probably been dead for between two to three hours before her parents found her.
Shaun Baker, a station manager with Shropshire Fire Service, told the inquest the carbon monoxide produced by the barbecue rose to the top of the tent before gathering at the back end where Hannah was sleeping.
He said: “The one thing I could see that was different to Hannah and the rest of the family was that she facing the other direction.
“My initial hunch was that was the reason. I did set up a reconstruction using gas monitors in certain places in the same tent.
“The results did show that that there was a higher level of carbon monoxide in an area of the tent.
“Carbon monoxide is very similar to air. Air currents will move it and allow it to spread around the tent.
“The shape of the tent is such that I believe that hot air was being pushed up following the contour of the tent and maybe it pooled at the back of the tent.”
Recording a verdict of accidental death, Shropshire Coroner John Ellery said: “It’s quite clear that you (Mr and Mrs Jones), and many many people were unaware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“The risk you were addressing when you brought that barbecue in, in its dying embers, was against fire.
“That was the risk that you acted against but sadly what was happening was that carbon monoxide was coming from those embers.
“I accept that those vapours being hotter than the surrounding air went to the top of the tent and probably found their way down to the far end where tragically Hannah’s head was.
“And that may well be the explanation why it was she who was so tragically affected.
“It’s an accident and that’s my verdict, one of accidental death.”
After his verdict, Mr Ellery expressed his hope that the verdict would also serve a “secondary function to raise the awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Verdict: Accidental death.
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