Tragic mom’s cry for help results in fire death — (The News and Star)

SSRI Ed note: Woman prescribed antidepressants starts to feel better, then sets herself on fire and burns to death. Depression blamed.

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The News and Star


DEPRESSION plunged a mother to such a low that she poured spirits over her body and set herself on fire.

Neighbours could hear screaming as flames began to engulf Pamela Jane Lightburn and her mother tried desperately to put them out.

But they were too late to save her and the 39-year-old Penrith woman died from her burns soon after at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary.

At an inquest into the former Eden Council employee’s death yesterday, North East Cumbria coroner David Osbourne said he believed Mrs lightburn’s actions were a cry for help and that she did not intend to kill herself.

Just five weeks before her death on November 2, 2004, Mrs Lightburn, who had a two-year-old son, Kavan, who was in the house at the time of the fire, had attempted suicide via an overdose of pills.

That had been the culmination of months of depression and paranoia  during which time she became obsessed with a suspicion that police were out to kill her and led to her being prescribed anti-depressants.

After that she told her family she was “horrified” by what she had done and pledged not to put them through that trauma again.

In the days before her death, they thought she was beginning to improve.

Gillian Woodcock, one of her two sisters, had visited her the night before she died and said: “I came away feeling a lot better because she seemed brighter. She was kneeling on the floor, playing with Kavan and laughing.”

Mrs Lightburn’s depression had, however, been growing and she doubted that she was a fit mother ­ despite being told by social workers, called in after the suicide attempt, that she was good.

On the day of her death, she and her mother, Beatrice Brownrigg, planned to go shopping for Christmas decorations in Carlisle.

Mrs Brownrigg, who had stayed at her daughter’s home in Macadam Gardens the previous night, had returned to her house in Carleton village to get ready and rang Mrs Lightburn’s phone three times to let her know she was on her way back.

When she reached the house, she spotted smoke in the alleyway of the house and someone who appeared to be on fire.

In a statement, Mrs Brownrigg said: “She was covered in something. There seemed to be something draped on her.

“I grabbed whatever I could find to smother the flames and eventually it went out. She said nothing to me and seemed to be conscious. It was just a nightmare.”

Neighbour Eunice Whittaker heard the noise and called an ambulance.

She said: “I thought someone was in distress. I went down to see what was happening, I thought someone was injured. I then saw what happened. I didn’t know it was a person.”

The inquest heard that Mrs Lightburn’s depression had started at about the time of the birth of her son, but had got worse in the April or May before her death.

Her father, Bruce, died just a fortnight before Kevan was born and she had not had time to grieve. She and her husband David had also had p
roblems with their home at about that time.

Mr Lightburn, an engineer who works away in Liverpool during the week, spoke to her just over an hour before she was found alight. Her behaviour gave him no cause for alarm, he said.

He said she felt “guilty and remorseful” after her first suicide attempt and told him she felt the family would be “better off without her”.

Since her suicide attempt, Mrs Lightburn had been receiving treatment from doctors and community psychiatric nurses.

Recording an open verdict at Penrith Magistrates’ Court, Mr Osbourne said: “She purposely went into the garage to pour spirits on herself but waited until her mum had given three rings on the telephone to let her know she was setting off.

“She waited until the last moment, knowing somebody would be there in a short period of time and hoping perhaps to be rescued.

“Tragedy is perhaps an overused word, but I think this is exactly that.”