Families in walk-out at inquest on blaze deaths

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THE FAMILIES of four people killed in a blaze at a party walked out of the inquest into the deaths yesterday after the coroner refused to hear new evidence from their lawyer.

Colm Davis-Lyons, representing the families, asked Dr Donald Gooding, the coroner, to admit a 29-page submission relating to the ownership of the flat in Hove, East Sussex, where five people died on 18 April.

He told the resumed inquest at Brighton, East Sussex, that the evidence would identify the owner of the three-storey building, which did not have a fire escape.

He named a Mr Hoogstraten as the probable owner of the building, but the coroner replied: 'I have no firm evidence that Mr Hoogstraten was or is the owner of the property involved. He may be but I have no firm evidence and I can't call a witness on what amounts to a show of hands.'

The ownership of the building has baffled the authorities. Mr Davis-Lyons referred to letters sent to Nicholas Ioannoe, a director of the company which is the leaseholder. He told the jury that efforts to contact him had failed but added: 'There is reason to suspect that he does not in fact exist . . . but that he does exist under the name of Mr Hoogstraten.'

The families walked out in protest and are seeking a judicial review from the Divisional Court. Dennis Johns, father of one of the victims, later read a statement on behalf of the families.

The five who died were Andrew Manners, 29, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; Mabel Smith Roberts, 46, of Colwyn Bay, north Wales; Timothy Sharpe, 28, of Hove; Paul Jones, 33, of Brighton, and Adrian Johns, 32, of Brighton.

An inquest is also being held into the death of Trevor Carrington, 38, of Brighton. An earlier hearing had been told that he died after being hit by a lorry after telling his brother that he had started the fire as a prank because he was bored with the party.

The inquest continues today.