Page last updated at 17:41 GMT, Wednesday, 8 July 2009 18:41 UK

'Faults' caused tenant bath death

Pettigrew Cottage, Porthscatho
The family moved in four days before Thirza Whittall was killed

The husband of a mother who was electrocuted in the bath of a rented cottage in Cornwall has called for a change in the law.

Thirza Whitall, 33, was found dead by her five-year-old daughter Millie at their home in Porthscatho in 2008.

The inquest in Truro was told the property had no earth connection.

Recording an accidental death verdict, Coroner Andrew Cox said it was "inexplicable" there was no law on checking the electrics in rented homes.

Electrical engineer Jonathan Keam, who examined Pettigrew Cottage after Mrs Whitall's death, told the hearing a combination of faults in the property had proved fatal.

I'm bound to wonder how many other properties are today in a similar state as this one was
Andrew Cox, Deputy Cornwall Coroner

He had measured 175 volts between the bath taps and a waste pipe in the bathroom, the trip-switch in the house did not work, there was a fault in an oil heater and a corroded pipe around the earth of the mains of the property.

The inquest heard the cottage had not had a full electrical check since 1981.

Landlady Hilary Thompson had asked a local electrician to look over the property before the new family moved in, but because of work pressure, he had not done so.

Mrs Whittall died in March 2008, four days after moving to Cornwall from Quinton in Birmingham with her husband Fred, 34, and their two children, Millie and two-year-old George.

Giving evidence to the hearing, her father-in-law Michael Whittall, 72, a retired builder, broke down as he described how his granddaughter had found her mother, stroked her and said a prayer over the body.

'Tragic loss'

She then took her younger brother downstairs, stood on a chair to reach the front door key and walked to her local shop for help.

The family had moved for a "better quality of life", the inquest was told.

There is no current legislation covering mains electrical supplies to houses which are not multi-occupancy.

The deputy Cornwall coroner described that situation as "bizarre".

"Anyone who heard the evidence today cannot but be starkly reminded of the potential perils of electricity that most of us have in our homes, but yet take for granted," Mr Cox said.

"But there is no requirement for periodic inspections of electricity in homes and that to me seems inexplicable.

"I'm bound to wonder how many other properties are today in a similar state as this one was."

Amended regulations

After the inquest, solicitor Chris Thorne, said the family had been devastated by Mrs Whittall's death.

"It's a tragic loss and one which they still can't come to terms with," he told BBC News.

He said Mr Whittall would like to see current housing regulations amended.

"If a private landlord lets out a property to a tenant, they require a gas certificate every year to ensure the property's safe," Mr Thorne said.

"There is no such regulation in relation to the electrical supply, as the Whittalls have learnt to their cost."



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