'Deluded' woman died in garage fire

A RETIRED teacher suffering from a "deluded state of mind" died in an explosive garage fire in Wakefield, an inquest heard.

Dental records were used to identify Margaret Eileen Piper, who was found crouched in her garage at her home in Ledger Lane, Outwood, on May 9.

At the inquest into her death Wakefield coroner David Hinchliff recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

Mrs Piper, a former deputy headteacher at Newton Hill J&I School, died from smoke inhalation.

The 71-year-old had suffered mental problems caused by taking over the personal affairs of her sister Hazel, who had been hospitalised with multiple sclerosis.

At the inquest Mr Hinchliff said: "Mrs Piper had changed over a very short time from a highly competent and able person who had many friends and interests, a joy to everyone who met her, to a frightened lady who had the mistaken belief she had done something wrong."

Professor Helen Whitwell, head of forensic pathology at Sheffield University, conducted a postmortem into Mrs Piper's death.

She said an examination showed that a concentration of soot, smoke materials and cyanide inhaled during the fire was enough to kill her.

Martyn Holmes, of West Yorkshire Fire Investigation Team, said postman James Casey was delivering at Mrs Piper's home when he heard an explosion.

The fire brigade were called and found the garage door buckled with smoke and flames pouring from the gaps created above and below.

After pulling the door down they discovered Mrs Piper's body, a box of matches and exploded aerosol cans. There was extensive damage to the building.

Judith Rogers, one of Mrs Piper's two daughters, said her mother, a founder member of Wakefield & District Family History Society, had a variety of interests.

She described her mother as optimistic, fit, sprightly, easy-going and placid.

Mrs Rodgers said her mother changed after taking control of her aunt's affairs. Some people had criticised Mrs Piper for selling her sister's home and taking charge of her finances, which caused her to become paranoid and reclusive.

She said: "I started to realise it was some kind of mental problem."

Mrs Piper increasingly believed she had done something wrong when taking over her sister's affairs, which would see her whole family punished.

Mrs Rodgers tried to get her mother emergency appointments with psychiatrists. Mrs Piper was taking anti-depressants regularly for the condition.

Mr Hinchliff said: "If she was feeling that she had done something wrong and had a lot of her sister's stuff, she may have been getting rid of the 'incriminating evidence'.

"This stuff was in the garage and she was possibly burning documents when the whole thing got out of hand.

"In my view, in her deluded state of mind she may have tried to have disposed of papers this way."

Addressing Mrs Piper's family, he added: "I expect all of you were disappointed by the response of the psychiatric services you ap-proached."

Mrs Piper was a widow, her husband Gordon having died in August 2000 after suffering a sudden aneurysm.