A HEAVY smoker who died after a fire started on her bed did not have a working smoke detector in her bungalow, an inquest has heard.

Lorraine Mary Sheppard, known as Poppet, was found deceased on October 30, last year, on her bed in the bedroom of her bungalow in Irvine Way, Christchurch.

While subsequent fire and police investigations found no third party involvement in her death, some family members and friends remain convinced there is more to the case and have called for police to reopen the investigation.

At Dorset Coroner's Court, Bournemouth, on Thursday (June 27), Assistant Dorset Coroner Brendan Allen recorded an open conclusion.

Evidence was given by Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) station manager Graham Kewley, and Dorset Police Detective Sergeant Mark Portelli which concluded there were no suspicious circumstances.

Mr Allen said: "The fire investigation and the police investigation was conducted. In the absence of any electrical cause for the fire and on the basis of Poppet being a heavy smoker and smoking materials being found at her address, Mr Kewley's considered opinion is the cause of the fire was accidental ignition of bedding."

However, concerns raised by family and friends included the fact Ms Sheppard's back door was unlocked when her body was discovered, while her beloved dog was shut in the lounge and her bedroom door was closed.

According to them it would have been "extremely unusual" for Ms Sheppard to act this way.

A key safe at the property was also open with the key missing.

Mr Allen said: "There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of these matters. But if there is, the likelihood is that the person who could provide that reasonable explanation is Poppet herself.

"As things stand the questions attached to those facts remain unanswered and unexplained.

"While those matters remain unexplained that causes me difficulty in reaching a conclusion of accident, so I'll be recording an open verdict."

One undisputed fact is that the smoke alarm in Ms Sheppard's bungalow, which is managed by Sovereign Housing, had been rendered effectively useless.

Mr Kewley told the court that the detector had been removed from the casing, making it impossible for the alarm to sound.

Asked by Mr Allen if in his experience did people remove smoke detectors to stop them sounding in non-emergency situations, such as when people smoke or burn cooking, Mr Kewley replied yes.

Since the fire DWFRS has been working with social housing providers to ensure smoke alarms are regularly maintained.

Earlier the inquest heard evidence that Ms Sheppard, aged 58, was a heavy smoker and often drank to excess.

A post mortem examination confirmed she died of asphyxia due to severe burns, and that levels of alcohol in her blood were relatively low.

Mr Allen said: "The likelihood from the evidence I have heard is that the fire started overnight on October 29, into October 30."

"The seat of the fire was the mattress and/or the duvet cover.

"The evidence suggests that it was a slow burning and smouldering fire.

"Given the toxic fumes that would have been generated by the smouldering material, Poppet was likely overcome by the smoke very quickly and then remained unconscious."

Speaking to the Daily Echo after the hearing, Ms Sheppard's sister-in-law Shelley Taylor said: "There is more to this, it just doesn't add up.

"She (Ms Sheppard) would often have lots of unsavoury characters in her house, but she never left the back door unlocked or shut her bedroom door."

Meanwhile, family friend Claire Lillington said: "We need to know what really happened, and we would like the police to reopen this case and investigate again."