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The Birmingham Mail
Jan 27 2007
By Adam Smith, Birmingham Mail
A TRAINEE solicitor drenched herself in petrol and burned herself alive after being harassed for money by debt collection agencies.
Helen Sweeney, aged 30, was so badly burned she could not be identified following the blaze in an outside toilet at her Edgbaston home.
Miss Sweeney’s housemates at the King Edwards Road house tried in vain to douse the flames but were too late to save her.
James Harris, who was woken by a neighbour said: “I ran into the garden and saw smoke coming from the outside toilet. We started throwing water through the side window.
“I tried to kick the door down but her body was behind the door blocking it from being opened properly.”
Fire crews took just two minutes to get to the scene and put out the fire with a high-pressure spray but it was too late to save Miss Sweeney, who was originally from County Kerry, in Ireland.
Station Officer Peter Smith from West Midlands Fire Service told the Sutton Coldfield Town Hall inquest that an investigation into the cause of the fire, at 7.30am on July 20 last year, suggested Miss Sweeney had started it herself.
He said: “There was a body on the floor with a knife underneath it. There was the smell of petrol and I saw a green petrol container with a red lighter close to it.
“Petrol would have had to have been poured over the upper body to cause the extensive burns. There was no evidence of any third party involvement in the fire.”
Miss Sweeney had a history of depression and was on medication for the illness but her condition had worsened in the final few weeks of her life.
Fellow housemate Rachel Richards had spoken to her the night before the tragedy.
“She was very depressed and was worried about calls from debt agencies who I presume were demanding money from her,” she said.
Birmingham Coroner Aiden Cotter recorded that Helen Sweeney took her own life while suffering from depression.