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Coroner criticises council’s care alarm service after man dies in fire

Jacob Sulaiman died in blaze at South Hampstead block in December

08 October, 2018 — By William McLennan

Right, Jacob Sulaiman was said to have ‘poor mobility’ and ‘a long history of mental health problems’. Left, the blaze flat in South Hampstead

A CORONER has criticised Camden Council’s emergency care alarm service after the death of a vulnerable 65-year-old man in a fire exposed a lack of information sharing and record-keeping.

An inquest into the death of Jacob Sulaiman, who had “poor mobility” and a “long history of mental health problems”, heard how he had repeatedly pushed the button on his Careline alarm in the hours before fire broke out at his home in a sheltered housing block in South Hampstead on December 8 last year.

But paramedics who arrived to assess Mr Sulaiman – who was known to dial emergency services while experiencing “low mood” and who would at times “express suicidal thoughts” – were not informed of the “nature and number” of calls for help he had made that day, leaving them with an “incomplete picture”.

Assistant coroner Sarah Bourke said: “Had the London Ambulance Service had more information regarding the nature and number of calls that Mr Sulaiman had made to Careline, this may have had some bearing on the steps taken to assess his mental capacity and how Mr Sulaiman was managed.”

He was found dead after smoke and heat alarms were triggered in his flat at Robert Morton House, near Rowley Way, a few hours later.

Following the inquest in July, Ms Bourke wrote to Camden Council with her concerns about the Careline service. She said action was needed to remove the risk of further deaths. Careline systems are installed in the homes of vulnerable residents across Camden, allowing people to call for help by pushing a button.

In Mr Sulaiman’s case, the alarm would connect with the manager of his Origin Housing-run home during office hours. At night, it dialled a call centre in Eastbourne, run by private firm Wellbeing.

The inquest heard that, while Careline staff were sent to visit Mr Sulaiman on two occasions, they were not aware of the many calls he had made that night, because they had been handled by Wellbeing. They also were not aware that paramedics had visited earlier. Ms Bourke said that “information regarding the nature and number of recent contacts with Wellbeing is not easily accessible to [Careline staff] dealing with an emergency call-out.”

Police were called to his flat on the evening of December 7.

Mr Sul­aiman, who had moved to London from the Netherlands about six year ago, had “asked them what the point in living was and stated that he wanted to return to Holland”. He refused hospital treatment.

Paramedics visited Mr Sulaiman shortly after midnight on December 8, but he again refused hospital treatment. He was found unresponsive in a chair by firefighters called to the scene when smoke and heat sensors were triggered at around 7.45am. He had been poisoned by toxic smoke from a fire that started when a “naked flame was applied to combustible material”, the inquest heard.

It is not known if this was a deliberate act. Mr Sulaiman’s brother, Mohamed, who lives nearby in Swiss Cottage, said Jacob lived a rich and full life, travelling around the world to work as a hotel manager.

He was born in Sudan and moved to Europe in the early 1970s, first settling in Bulgaria before moving to Germany, where he studied for the hotel trade. He went on to manage hotels and moved to the Netherlands, where he married and had a daughter.

A Camden Council spokesman said: “Mr Sulaiman received prompt visits and support from services in response to his calls for assistance throughout the night. During the night, Mr Sulaiman’s condition was not such as to require intervention relating to his mental health.”


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