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Mother of two electrocuted

Mother of two electrocuted as she turned on tap to run a bath in her family’s new home

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 1:36 PM on 9th July 2009

A mother was killed days after moving into her dream home when an electrical fault turned the bath she was running into a ‘lethal charge’, an inquest heard.

Thirza Whittall was found by her five-year-old daughter Millie with her burned hands still clutching the taps. The 33-year-old died instantly when she was hit by 175 volts.

Mrs Whittall, her husband Fred, 35, and their two children had moved from Birmingham into the rented home in Portscatho in Cornwall just six days earlier to start a new life in the countryside near their families.

But a series of electrical problems combined to make the bathroom a death trap, the inquest heard.

A faulty electric-powered, oil-filled heater and a lack of earth bonding under the enamel bath combined to turn the metal bath taps into a live electrical conductor.

Mrs Whittall, whose husband was away at the time of the incident, was electrocuted after she part-filled the bath with water and touched the taps with wet hands.

Millie found her mother lying on the floor and calmly took her brother George, two, out of his cot and, after locating the house keys, unlocked the door and walked down the street into a shop.

The children’s grandfather Michael Whittall found Millie in the shop on March 28, 2008.

He told the inquest: ‘She really was very upset, so I took her home. I went straight to the bathroom, where I saw my daughter-in-law lying face down in the bathroom.

‘I lifted her head to see if she was alive and realised there was nothing I could do.’

Electrical expert Jonathan Keane, told the inquest in Truro, Cornwall, that the home hadn’t been rewired or inspected electrically since 1981.

‘The 35-year-old volt trip switch to the main fuse board was not working,’ he said.

‘The main earth bond to the entire home had corroded though – meaning there was no earth in the event of a fault to ground lethal voltage.

‘There was not enough supplemental earth bonding in the bathroom, and catastrophically the ageing oil-filled heater in the bathroom was also laced with faults.

‘The heater, which Thirza was using to heat the bath, was more than 30 years old, had a damaged flex and the wrong size fuse was fitted to the plug.

‘The combination of the lack of earth bonding and the faulty heater created a lethal charge to the taps – killing Thirza when she touched them. It was strong enough to kill her.’

Mrs Whittall was a well-known as a campaigner for the use of real, reusable nappies and had run council advisory sessions devoted to the subject.

Dr Guyan Fernando, who carried out a post-mortem examination, said: ‘The burns on her chin and arms were typical of those caused by electricity.’

The Whittall family has called for a legal loophole to be closed to protect tenants from properties with electrical faults.

Landlords who lease properties currently need a regular gas safety certificate for boilers but there are no laws in place to ensure an annual certificate for safe wiring.

In a statement, Mr Whittall, a builder, said: ‘I remain deeply concerned that there is a gap in the legislation which permitted this incident to occur and which puts others at risk.

‘Whilst landlords of rented properties are obliged to provide an annual gas safety certificate, no such regulation applies in relation to electrical wiring in rented properties.

‘As we have learnt our cost, a fault in an electrical installation is every bit as dangerous as a faulty gas supply.’

The inquest heard property owner Hilary Thompson had the house rewired in 1981 but since then her husband had carried out regular checks himself.

Cornwall coroner Andy Cox said it was ‘inexplicable’ that a loophole in the law existed.

‘Investigations established that an electrical heater at the property was defective and that the electric wiring at the property was not earthed, the combined effect of the two rendering the taps live,’ he said.

‘Mrs Thompson did not know about any of the electrical faults in the property. The property has since been rewired at a cost of £4,000 – regrettably this does not help Mrs Whittall.’

He said the case was a reminder to everyone of the potential perils of electricity in the home.

The inquest continues.