Fire that killed cancer patient could have been accidental or intentional, said coroner

A housewife continued to smoke cigarettes even after she suffered a cancer relapse in August last year.

A month later, a fire broke out in the bedroom of Madam Goh Kim Cheok. She sustained 50 per cent burns on her body and died a week later. She was 66 years old and left behind two sons.

At the inquiry on Wednesday into her death, State Coroner Toh Yung Cheong said that cause of death was the extensive burns with cancer being a contributory factor. However, he pointed out that there was not enough evidence to deliver a definite finding if the fire was accidental or intentional.

He added: "There are two possibilities. The first is in connection with her smoking and that carelessness led to the fire and she was too weak to escape. The second is that she started a fire with the intention of ending her own life."

The coroner did note that there was no evidence that any fuel had been used. He ruled out an electrical fault causing the blaze as the circuit breakers had not tripped.

Investigating officer Chia Hong Cheng testified that a bus passenger called the police at 5.30pm on Sept 12 last year about the fire on the second storey of the block. Thick black smoke was billowing from the 5-room flat and neighbours were evacuated.

Madam Goh was found unconsciousness on her bed and taken to Changi General Hospital. She was transferred to the Burns Unit of the Singapore General Hospital the next day.

Her elder son, Mr Alexander Ng Boon Sin, told police investigators that his mother contracted womb cancer 34 years ago. She recovered upon treatment. Although diagnosed with fourth stage womb cancer last year, she refused chemotherapy.

Her sons did not attend the inquiry.