Mother who killed son in Hemel Hempstead burned herself to death 14 years later

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A GRIEVING mother burned to death after setting fire to herself in a train toilet – the day after the 14th anniversary of the day she killed her son in Hemel Hempstead, an inquest heard.

Rachel James, 43, had spent 10 years in a mental hospital after stabbing her five-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 April 11 last year when she went to cubicle and set herself alight after pouring petrol over herself, Beds Coroner’s Court was told.

The fire brought the train to a halt just north of Leighton Buzzard station in Beds 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.

Firefighters put out the blaze and trains on the Euston line were disrupted.

Passenger Christopher Gardener told 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 Ms James asked him if it was occupied. He said Ms James 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.

Ms James was 29 when she was charged with the murder of Perry and attempted murder of his nine-year-old brother Aaron in an attack on April 10, 1997.

She was sent to a psychiatric hospital without time limit after pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and attempted murder.

The single mother – who was then called Helen Rycroft – stabbed Perry to death and stabbed Aaron and battered him with a hammer at their flat in Northend, Hemel Hempstead, after becoming convinced they would fall prey to paedophiles.

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 building 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 Ms James, who was living in a council flat in Uxbridge, west London, had been deeply troubled about the death of Perry.

Her friend Marlene Glover said Ms James 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 Ms James told her she tried to contact her older son but he did not want to see her.

“Family life was something she wanted but could not have,” she said.

“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.”

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

Mrs Glover said: “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.”

The inquest heard Ms James was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia but had stopped taking her medication.

She had two more children after Perry’s death who were adopted at birth and their father committed suicide in 2006.

Verdict: suicide.