Eastbourne woman dies after setting herself on fire

Shireen Alavi died in December last year, photo provided by her mother
Shireen Alavi died in December last year, photo provided by her mother

An Eastbourne woman died after deliberately setting herself on fire.

Shireen Alavi died in her flat in Carnforth Crescent, Langney, after setting a number of fires and eventually catching alight herself on December 29 last year.

The inquest took place at Eastbourne Town Hall today (November 15)

The inquest took place at Eastbourne Town Hall today (November 15)

Her brother David had died in a fire 20 years previously, an inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall heard today (November 15).

Shireen, 33, suffered from a history of mental health disorders, abusive relationships and drug dependency, alongside having Asperger’s syndrome.

The mother of one had been living alone in the flat and had reportedly been taking £40 of heroin and crack cocaine a day.

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She had been sectioned in 2016 under the Mental Health Act and had tried to take her life on a number of occasions, her GP said.

Coroner Alan Craze said she was ‘setting fires for the hell of setting fires’ but had not intended to take her own life.

As a girl Shireen had been expelled from an Eastbourne secondary school for starting a fire in the girls’ toilets, her mother Rosmarie Alavi said.

The court heard how neighbour Kieron Sullivan heard a fire alarm beeping at around 6.30pm on December 29. He went around to Shireen’s flat and saw smoke coming out the windows.

He said, “She opened the door, I asked if she was okay, she said ‘I’m fine’ and shut the door.”

Then at about 11pm he noticed the alarm was still going. “The smoke was quite thick,” he said, “I could see orange flickering. I thought I could hear her saying something behind the door.”

He called the fire brigade and tried to kick the door down, eventually using a hammer to smash the glass panel and gain entry.

He found Shireen in a fetal position on the floor. Kieron said, “She was still on fire. I was pretty shocked, I was expecting to find fire but not on her.”

Neighbour Spencer Aylward brought a bucket of water to help put out the flames. In a statement he said he heard Shireen cry out ‘help me’ in a croaky voice.

A post mortem said she died of asphyxia due to the suffocating gases.

An investigation into the fire, led by Dan Channon of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service found a number of fires had been started in the flat before the final blaze which claimed Shireen’s life.

The station manager said her clothing, made of flammable man-made materials, had quickly gone up in flames. The inquest also heard a lighter was found in her hand by paramedics.

He said, “The only remaining possibility is that the fires were started deliberately.”

Coroner Alan Craze said, “I have a clear picture of somebody who would obtain physical gratification in whatever means she could.

“Her lifestyle was chaotic, it was pretty dangerous. What she was doing to herself wasn’t wise under any circumstances.”

However, he added, “I have never encountered a case where someone has tried to commit suicide by starting a fire. I don’t believe that was her intention.

“She was experimenting or playing. She was setting fires for the hell of setting fires.

“I think she was under the influence of drugs otherwise she wouldn’t have done something so manifestly dangerous.”

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Speaking after the inquest, Shireen’s mother said she felt let down by the agencies which had a duty to care for her vulnerable daughter.

“There were five agencies involved in my daughter’s care and she’s died,” she said, “That shouldn’t have happened, she should be here now.”

Ms Alavi – who was living in Turkey after having to sell her Eastbourne home following her divorce – said she was not made aware of the extent of Shireen’s issues.

She said, “I’m very upset with Wealden’s housing department for putting her in that place. We wanted her to be put in sheltered accommodation.

“They told her if she didn’t take the flat she would be homeless.”

She said the medication Shireen had been put on made her a ‘zombie’ who was ‘floating around in a haze’, “The squalor she died in breaks my heart. She was a vulnerable adult and they all failed in their duty of care towards her.

“We as a family are not blameless but we did not know the situation. Had we known then we could have helped.”

Coroner Alan Craze concluded Shireen died of misadventure.

• If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, Talk to Frank may be able to help. Visit www.talktofrank.com or call 0300 123 6600.