Inquest Of Woman Burned On Train

20 April 2012, 17:29 | Updated: 20 April 2012, 17:35

A grieving mother burned to death after setting fire to herself in a train toilet - on the 14th anniversary of the day she killed her son.

Rachel James had spent 10 years in a mental hospital after stabbing her 5 year old son Perry to death.

She had been released to live alone in the community and was travelling on a train from Northampton to London on Monday April 11  last year when she went to cubicle and set herself alight after pouring petrol over herself, an inquest heard yesterday/Friday.

The fire brought the train to a halt just to the north of Leighton Buzzard station in Bedfordshire just after 5pm.

The overhead power lines were switched off and other passengers were evacuated and walked a few hundred yards down the track to the station. Fire fighters put out the blaze. Trains on the Euston line were disrupted.

Passenger Christopher Gardener told Bedfordshire Deputy Coroner Bob Amos that he was sitting in a carriage with his back to the toilet wall. A younger woman was in the toilet when Rachel James asked him if it was occupied. He said Ms James, who had long blonde hair and was well tanned, waited and the two women walked past each other.

He said: "Shortly afterwards there was a whooshing noise that was ever so powerful. A flash flame went past me very, very quickly . It must have passed by my side. There were no injuries to me.

"I thought there had been a terrible accident. I went to the toilet door and flames were coming out. The door appeared to be locked.

"She was screaming, not for help but screaming in agony. I couldn't open the door. I banged on it and rattled the lock."

Mr Gardener said he pulled the emergency stop button and jumped out of the safe side of the train, running to the front to alert the driver. He said thick black smoke was coming from the carriage.

When aged  29 she had been charged with the murder of Perry and attempted murder of his 9 year old brother Aaron in an attack on April 11 1997. She appeared at Watford magistrates court and was sent to a psychiatric hospital.

The single mother - who was then called Helen Philips - stabbed Perry to death and stabbed Aaron and battered him with a hammer after snapping under the pressure of debts at their flat in Northend, Hemel Hempstead, Herts.

The first her neighbours knew of the tragedy was when she appeared in the window of her flat with Perry's lifeless body in her arms.

She had threatened to turn on the gas and blow the house up if anyone came near.

Police got into the flat to find Perry dead. An ambulance rushed the older boy to hospital with stab wounds to his head.

The inquest heard the 43-year-old, who was living in a council flat in Whitehall Road, Uxbridge, West London had been deeply troubled about the death of Perry.

Her friend Marlene Glover said Rachel had stayed with her and her husband John in Milton Keynes the previous night and they had agreed to accompany her as far as Leighton Buzzard on her return back to London on the train.

Mrs Glover said : "She said it was the 14th anniversary of her son's death. She seemed ok but was depressed about the anniversary. She said: 'I have got to face it.'"

She said Rachel had told her that she had been told that she had tried to contact her older son but had been told he did not want to e her. "Family life was something she wanted but could not have. She  had tried to kill herself a year before. It was Mother's Day a week before this happened and it was the anniversary of her son's death. "

The impression they had of Rachel was that she feared that she was going to have to go back to hospital.

After her death Mr Glover discovered that the petrol container he used for his lawnmower had been taken. Rachel had also asked him for a spare lighter.

Mrs Glover added: "She had a huge bag when she left but we did not know what was in it."

John Glover told the hearing: "I think she was a little bit paranoid and thought that the Mental Health People were after her.
That is why she wanted us to go on the train with her to Leighton Buzzard as that was the only stop before London.

The cause of death was "incineration."

Psychiatrist Dr Claire Woodcock of The Riverside Hospital in Uxbridge said Rachel James had been diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia.

She said "She was taking anti psychotic medication but stopped taking it a year before her death.

"She believed she had a mental illness that contributed to the death of her son.  She believed that was in the past and said she had no need for further treatment.  She thought the cause of her illness was other people."

In June 2009 a Mental Health Tribunal granted her an absolute discharge from Section 41 of the Mental Health Act but, in July 2010 she had been detained in hospital for a short while under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act.

The inquest heard that Rachel James went on to have two more children following the killing of Perry.  Both of those boys were adopted at birth and their father committed suicide in 2006.

On the day before she died, Rachel had left a suicide note with a friend, along with savings books for her children.

The Bedfordshire Deputy Coroner Bob Amos recorded a verdict that she took her own life.