A HUSBAND whose wife died after setting fire to herself has said she was failed by mental health services.

Hafiza Ghulam Begum died on August 5, six weeks after she set her clothes alight at her Blackburn home.

Speaking after the inquest into the mother-of-two’s death, her husband, Zahir Akhtar, said he had asked for more help but it came too late.

He hit out at Lancashire Care Trust, the organisation that looks after mental health services in the area, blaming budget cuts for his family not getting enough support.

Mrs Begum, 58, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1990, was worried, agitated and paranoid in the days leading up to the fire at her Bromley Street address, the inquest heard.


Mr Akhtar told coroner Michael Singleton she had been admitted to hospital informally and under the Mental Health Act several times over the years and was being treated by injection every two weeks.

He said: “In the few days before she died she became increasingly agitated.

“We went into the park and she tried to jump in the pond.

“She said she wanted to see the ducks.”

He said her injections were increased but told the coroner there was no suggestion she might take her own life.

On the day of the fire, Mr Akhtar had gone to collect a takeaway.

He said: “The curry house was very busy. I had given her a mobile phone which she used to ring me to say ‘come home’.

“I told her I was waiting for the curry. It took a long time. I did not realise she was going to do anything.

“She said ‘come home quickly’. I said I was coming and I went to the shop to get her some mangos and I was carrying the fruit back and then the off-licence guy called out to me and said ‘you better come quickly’.

“The fire brigade, police and people were outside. They would not let me in the house.

“When I saw her in the hospital I asked her what had happened and she said she was trying to light a candle.

“Then she said ‘when I get better we will walk together in Whalley Range’.

“I was crying at the time I was so shocked. That was the last time I spoke to her, then she was sedated until the end.”

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Akhtar said he had rung social services and the mental health team requesting respite care, but by the time it was offered his wife was already in hospital.

“They all came too late and I could not help my wife. I could not save her,” he said.

“I was not getting help and it was because of cuts to the system. I hope this does not happen to anybody else.

“I was looking after her all the time. For one person it gets too much. If they had listened and given her some respite then she would still be here. There is not enough help for mentally ill people.

“They failed me. I had no help from them.”

Mrs Begum suffered 65 per cent burns and died in Wythenshawe Hospital after suffering complications including multiple organ failure and a bowel ischemia.

Ian Hainsworth, incident intelligence officer for Lancashire Fire and Rescue, told the inquest the fire had been started deliberately.

He said: “The evidence was matches found in the sink. There was nothing in the area to suggest why they were being used. There were no candles.”

Recording an open conclusion, Mr Singleton said: “She deliberately ignited her own clothing.

“As a consequence she sustained burn injuries that proved to be fatal.

“She was suffering paranoid schizophrenia and on that day her husband had left her to get food and she became increasingly anxious and in that state set fire to her clothes.

“I cannot be absolutely satisfied that it was her intention to bring harm to herself by way of killing herself.”

A spokeswoman for Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our sincere condolences and thoughts are with Mr Akhtar and the wider family.The trust cannot comment on individual people and the circumstances of their death.

“A full investigation took place at the time of Mrs Begum’s death and this did not indicate that her involvement with mental health services was a factor in the incident.

“We understand the issues that Mr Akhtar has raised and we are in the process of formally looking into those in order to fully ascertain if anything could have been done differently to support her. As such it would not be appropriate to comment any further but we will ensure Mr Akhtar receives a detailed response to the issues he has raised.”