Girl admitted pushing lit paper through doorway, inquest told


A teenage girl who had been accused of starting a fire which killed a firefighter, admitted to a friend that she had pushed a lit piece of paper through the doorway of the shop,  an inquest has heard.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighter and father-of-two Stephen Hunt, 38, died while attempting to put out the blaze at Paul's Hair World in Oldham Street in Manchester on July 13, 2013.

At an inquest into his death, jurors were told that the then 15-year-old girl had been smoking cigarettes with a friend at the rear of the premises shortly before the fire started.

The youngster, who is now 17 and cannot be named for legal reasons, had been charged with committing arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, but the charge was later dropped by prosecutors.

Jurors sitting at Manchester's Civil Justice Centre had been told that the two girls had each smoked a cigarette but that they claimed they were docked out using a "scraping" motion.

But a friend of the girl who was called to give evidence said that the girl had told her that she had pushed a lit leaflet under the door, believing it to be extinguished.

Passages of the now 17-year-old's witness statement made to police on January 27 2015, were read to the 11 jurors.

It said: "She (girl 1) also said that once the sun had reflected on something and this had started the fire. The last version that (girl 1) told me about was that (girl 2) had set alight paper or card and (girl 1) had pushed it under the door where there was a crack or gap. (Girl 1) told me that she thought that the leaflet was extinguished before she put it under the door but realised that it wasn't.

"She (girl 1) also said that after they did this they got up and walked away. This indicated to me that they may have sat in the doorway whilst having a cigarette."

The inquest was told that the rear of the building where the fire was to start was largely used for product storage and that there had been hair dye leaflets in the doorway of the premises.

Jurors were told that the first sign of smoke was at 2.46pm - around one minute after the girls had left the area.

Mr Hunt, who entered the building at around 8pm, was said to have become disorientated before taking a wrong turn.

He was discovered at around 8.40pm and despite attempts to save him he died.

The witness said that on trying to contact her friend, she was told she could not call her because she was at the police station.

Later, the teenager was to Skype with the witness and tell her she had been at the scene of the fire.

The witness told the hearing that she said that the cigarette had not been put out properly but did not say whose cigarette it was.

When asked if she was not curious to find out more, she told the inquest: "I didn't ask a lot of questions."

But she said: "I just wanted to know what happened because she was a friend. It kept playing on my mind over the next few weeks, I was asking her about it."

She said that her friend's account of pushing the leaflet under the door had remained the same.

It was put to the witness by counsel for the girl who had been accused, that she could have "got it wrong" about it being alight.

She replied: "It could be a possibility."

An initial investigation by two other fire services determined that the fire had been started deliberately by use of a naked flame.

But a further expert said that it could not rule out the possibility that the fire was started accidentally and prosecutors decided not to proceed with the charge.

The inquest continues.