- Fire ripped through makeshift camp under the stairs
- Sheets and duvets used to make den were ablaze and blocked their escape
- Lighters and air freshener aerosol found in camp
Last updated at 5:14 PM on 18th October 2011
Two young brothers who died after fire ripped through their den under the stairs may have learned how to light an aerosol can from watching an X-Box game, an inquest heard.
Firefighters found the bodies of Lewis Jenkins, seven, and his brother Taylor, five, huddled in the alcove in the hallway of their end-of-terrace house in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
They had not been able to escape because the sheets and duvet covers they had used to build their den were ablaze and blocking the narrow exit.
Their mother, Denise Goldsmith, 31, had run screaming into the street semi-dressed, begging for help, after hearing her sons shout and seeing flames leaping from their makeshift camp.
Neighbours tried desperately to reach the boys after climbing through an open window but were beaten back by the heat.
Results from a post-mortem examination showed the boys died of smoke inhalation in the fire on the afternoon of October 4, 2008.
A red lighter, several tea light candles and an air freshener aerosol were all found in the camp by investigators.
‘Struggling to cope’: The boys’ mother Denise Goldsmith
Both boys, but particularly Taylor, were so fascinated by fire that Miss Goldsmith usually hid her lighters on top of the kitchen cupboards, the inquest heard.
Family friend Nicky Edgar said another boy had taught them how to light an aerosol and they had seen it done on a Xbox game.
Her daughter had seen Taylor trying to light a crisp two days earlier, the inquest at Eastbourne Magistrates Court heard yesterday.
Miss Goldsmith, whose ex-partner Stewart Jenkins was in prison at the time, had drunk up to a bottle of vodka with friends the previous night and was still over the drink drive limit when the fire started the next afternoon, the inquest heard.
She was initially arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and neglect but all charges were later dropped. She had allowed the unruly boys to stay up past 1am making their camp while she drank with friends in the kitchen the night before the fire.
She said the two of them had drunk it by the time Ms Edgar arrived with her 11-year-old son at 9.15pm, so she went to buy a 750ml bottle of vodka.
The mother-of-one said: ‘We were having a few drinks and the kids were playing in the living room on the X-Box.
‘We drank the litre because we ended up going back down the shop and buying more.’ She said the brothers and Ms Edgar’s son started making a camp before she went home at midnight, leaving the other two mothers drinking in the kitchen.
Miss Quicke admitted that her friend had found it increasingly difficult to cope with the boys’ behaviour after their father was jailed.
She said: ‘After Stewart went to prison she hit rock bottom and started drinking a lot more. She couldn’t handle the boys so she turned to drink.
‘They had Denise wrapped round their little finger. They would do whatever they wanted until they got what they wanted. They had no routine. They went to bed when and where they wanted. ‘They were up into the early hours even when they had school the next day. She couldn’t cope with them.’
Ms Edgar, who lives close to the scene of the fire, said her son and the two Jenkins boys had been ‘really excited’ about building the camp using a metal clothes airer, sheets and duvets and sealing all gaps with a towel to make it pitch black.
She said they could only get in and out by squeezing through two banisters so no adult could get in. She said the brothers were still up and playing in the den when she took her son home at between 1.30am and 2.30am, and that she left Miss Goldmsith chatting to a young man she did not know.
She said that Miss Goldsmith showed up at her house at 5.30am in her dressing gown asking for Rizla. She said: ‘I asked where were the boys. She
said there was someone with them.’ Miss Goldsmith told police she had stopped drinking at 1.30am.
Toxicologist Ian Humphreys said that she was still one and a half times the legal drink drive limit at 4.50pm when blood samples were taken at Eastbourne District General Hospital after the fire, anough to make her intoxicated but not drunk.
He said that meant she must have kept drinking after 1.30am – or consumed potentially fatal amounts of alcohol before that time.
Ms Goldsmith, who is facing eviction from the property, sat alongside relatives today occasionally weeping as she heard evidence of the final moments of her boys’ lives. The hearing continues.