Hairdresser's Death Remains Mystery

A teenage hairdresser died when her car suddenly exploded, an inquest heard today.

It remains a mystery why Jenny Mitchell's light grey Mini caught fire, killing her almost instantly.

At the time of the 19-year-old's death, her parents Bob and Pauline Mitchell said they believed cans of hydrogen peroxide - used for dyeing and bleaching - may have leaked and caused the fatal explosion when she lit a cigarette.

However, West Dorset Coroner Michael Johnston described that as a "red herring'' and said forensic experts had ruled it out as a likely cause.

The inquest at County Hall, Dorchester, heard the tragic incident happened at around 9am on the morning of March 9 this year when Jenny had gone to her former fiance's home to collect some of her clothes.

She and Russell Andrews had split up the day before after she admitted she had been unfaithful.

They had been living in a caravan together at Thornhill Farm, Stalbridge, near Sturminster Newton, Dorset, where Mr Andrews, 21, was a farm worker.

The teenager, from Shaftesbury, had returned to the caravan to collect her belongings and it was shortly after leaving the farm that she died.

Witnesses described hearing an explosion and seeing smoke pouring from the moving Mini before it ground to a halt and erupted into a ball of flames.

Two Polish construction workers, Jan Kaczowka and Pawel Kubala, who were working at a nearby house, tried to rescue Jenny but were beaten back by the intense flames.

In statements read to the inquest, the two men described how they went to try and help.

"I heard a sound which I had never heard before. It sounded like a muffled explosion, like the sound of a bursting tyre,'' Mr Kaczowka said.

"The driver and passenger windows were open and flames were riding out.''

Mr Kubala said that when he ran up to the car he could at first hear screams but could not open the car door.

"The car was still burning fiercely, as if it was drenched in something from the inside,'' he said.

"After about 10 minutes I left the scene feeling disappointed about not being able to help the person inside.

"I feel very sorry for the person who lost their life in front of me.''

The inquest also heard evidence from forensic scientist Darryl Manners, who said there was no obvious reason for Jenny's car to explode but could not rule out a leaking fuel pipe.

"This was a relatively new vehicle so a faulty fuel line would seem unlikely,'' he said.

"There must have been an explosion of some kind within the seating area, which has caused a fire to start.

"There were bottles and cans of hair care products and many of these cans contained peroxide.

"For these to explode, it would depend upon there being some sort of leakage and the vapour being ignited by a flame or a spark.

"If one or more of these products leaked and she lit a cigarette, then that could ignite such a mix of flammable vapours.''

Police ruled out any third party involvement and said the the cause of the explosion came from within Jenny's car.

The pathologist was unable to find a cause of death because of the intensity of the fire.

Jenny's family were in court to hear the coroner record an open verdict.

Mr Johnston said Jenny's car had turned into a "total inferno'' within seconds but the evidence before him did not point to a cause.

"I think the hydrogen peroxide is a red herring,'' he said.

"The triggering factor, the ignition, may well have been Jenny lighting a cigarette but it may well be operating a switch, which let out a spark causing an explosion, but we will never know that.

"I feel my job is to record the facts we can explain. There was no evidence the police regarded as suspicious and no explosive device was attached. As a result, I am not able to reach a conclusion that is meaningful.''