Mark’s story

Mark Dingley is the father of Francesca, who lost her life to carbon monoxide poisoning in Chengdu, China, in February 2015.

Mark and his ex-wife Chrissy now urge those travelling abroad to take portable carbon monoxide alarms with them and have called for the FCO to amend its country-specific advice on carbon monoxide safety.

“After graduating from Bristol University, Francesca successfully applied for a job teaching English in China, signing a contract with one of the largest English language-training providers in the world.

Francesca arrived in China in January 2015 and moved into her apartment on the 5th February.

Four days later, after going for dinner with her flatmate Emily, Francesca went to bed at around 11pm. Emily, having decided to take a shower and wash her hair, went to run the hot tap in the kitchen, as both girls had been instructed that for the shower to work, the faucet in the kitchen had to be running. Emily then went to bed, forgetting to turn the tap off.

The next morning, neither Francesca nor Emily appeared for work. When the language school staff visited the apartment later that afternoon, Emily was unconscious, and Francesca was dead.

A post-mortem revealed that Francesca had been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. An inspection report on the boiler revealed that the vent to the water boiler had been incorrectly installed, and did not meet building requirements, resulting in carbon monoxide leaking into the kitchen whenever the boiler was in use.

It was part of the language school’s accommodation policy to ensure that the apartment was safe, and that all its appliances were tested prior to employees moving in.  However, when questioned, staff told us testing was to check that equipment was functional, not that equipment was safe. The landlord of the flat had never supplied safety records, so there was no way of knowing if the boiler had ever been serviced.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is not uncommon in China and we believe Francesca’s employer would have been aware of carbon monoxide as a potential risk.

Since Francesca’s death, we have campaigned to raise awarenesss of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning among children considering a gap year, and have tried to work with Francesca’s secondary school.  We think the advice on the risks of carbon monoxide on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website should be more prominent and more forcefully delivered: for the page on China, all those travelling in China should be advised to take a carbon monoxide alarm with them, not just those living there.

The travel industry should do more to promote the need to bring a carbon monoxide alarm on holiday and carbon monoxide alarms should be sold in travel hubs, such as airports and ferry terminals, and in ‘travel’ sections of retail outlets such as Boots.

To prevent carbon monoxide-related deaths from happening in future, the lack of general awareness of carbon monoxide deaths needs to be combatted effectively”.

Published on 21/11/19

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