Mark’s story

Mark Dingley is the father of Francesca. Francesca lost her life as a result of 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 they have called for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to amend its country-specific advice on carbon monoxide safety.

This is Mark’s story

“After graduating from Bristol University, Francesca successfully applied for a job teaching English in China. She signed 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 decided to take a shower and wash her hair. She ran the hot tap in the kitchen, as instructed, to make the shower work. Then went to bed, forgetting to turn off the kitchen tap.

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 had died.

Cause of death

A post-mortem revealed that Francesca had died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. An inspection report on the boiler disclosed that the vent to the water boiler had been incorrectly installed. It did not meet building requirements. The error resulted 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 the apartment was safe. They were responsible for testing the appliances before employees moved in. However, when questioned, staff told us ‘testing’ was to check that equipment was ‘functional’, not ‘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 awareness of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning among children considering a gap year and have tried to work with Francesca’s secondary school.

Combatting carbon monoxide deaths

We think the ‘risks of carbon monoxide’ advice detailed on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development 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. 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.

The lack of general awareness of carbon monoxide deaths needs to be combatted effectively to prevent future carbon monoxide-related deaths.

Jane Hewin

Jane Hewin

Published on 21/11/19

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