Family’s heartfelt plea after bootleg cigarette tragedy

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THE family of a Spalding woman who died in a fire caused by a “bootleg cigarette” have made a heartfelt plea for lessons to be learned from the tragedy.

Disabled June Buffham (71) died at her Stonegate home in April when the chair in which she was sitting in her downstairs lounge/bedroom caught fire.

An inquest in Boston on Thursday heard Mrs Buffham had been smoking Jinling cigarettes – an illegal brand from Russia that continues smouldering when not being actively smoked.

A statement from the family said the tragic circumstances had deeply shocked and saddened all those who knew her.

They had no idea how Mrs Buffham came to be smoking Jinlings, but her daughter, Julie Grant, said: “I hope people learn from this – I would not want anyone else to go through what we have over the past few months.

“I want people to be made aware of these cigarettes.”

Mrs Grant had suffered a double ordeal when her mother’s home was ransacked by burglars to cash in on the scrap value of a copper water tank after the fire.

But the inquest focussed in the cigarettes and the work Trading Standards, HMRC and the police are doing to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

A witness statement by Tracey Berry described how she and her partner called the fire brigade after returning from a trip to Tesco Express at about 8.35pm and seeing smoke coming from the side of Mrs Buffham’s home and the room glowing.

She said: “I realised the fire was very intense and someone would not have survived it.”

Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue station manager Peter Wiles said there was little evidence of the fire outwardly, but the chair was destroyed, indicating it had been started by a smouldering cigarette.

In addition there was a Zippo-style lighter on the floor which they had to consider because although the lid was closed, it may have been open when it fell on the floor.

He said: “I can’t say for certain that it was the cigarette, but it is likely Mrs Buffham dropped it and it smouldered, starting the fire.

“It would only have taken a few breaths from the cocktail of gases from the fire for Mrs Buffham to die.”

Recording a verdict of accident death, coroner Robert Forrest said: “This is a sad case of an elderly disabled lady who died in a fire in her own living room.

“The likely cause is smoking material that continues to smoulder.

“I now have to consider whether to send a Rule 43 letter, but the problem I have is who to send it to – certainly locally Trading Standards, HMRC and the police appear to be on the case.”