Teenage pair guilty of manslaughter over fatal firework dare which killed pensioner

17 February 2023, 15:15 | Updated: 17 February 2023, 17:07

Met Police release CCTV footage of Kai Cooper on night when Josephine Smith died

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A teenager who dared his friend to stuff a lit firework through the letterbox of an 88-year-old woman's home, killing her as a result, has been found guilty of manslaughter.

Josephine Smith, 88, was asleep in bed when the firework exploded twice and set her home on fire in October 2021.

By the time emergency services had arrived, Mrs Smith's home had filled with smoke. She was found dead in an upstairs bedroom.

Kai Cooper, 19, was found guilty of her manslaughter and arson with recklessness as to whether life was in danger on Friday.

On the night of the reckless arson, Cooper and his 17-year-old friend, who cannot be named for legal reasons, went to a local shop and bought a 'Megaburst' firework.

Cooper then told a shopkeeper he wanted "something that is going to go far and quick" before telling his girlfriend that he was going to let them off at strangers.

Josephine Smith, 88, lived on her own at the time of her death
Josephine Smith, 88, lived on her own at the time of her death. Picture: Met Police

He told her: "Hey babes, come here. I'm trying to get fireworks, let them off at people. People are going to get terrorised tonight."

Cooper then went to into a Co-op shop, bought two lighters, before heading towards Mrs Smith's house in Queen's Park Road, east London, where she lived alone.

Before they reached Mrs Smith's home, the two youths set off some of the fireworks in the street, next to a restaurant and a pub, near cars, and even towards frightened pedestrians, jurors were told.

Heidi Stonecliffe, prosecuting, said: "It is a tragically random incident. That makes it no less serious or tragic."

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Ms Stonecliffe added: "They acted as a team as they did this, with Kai handing (the 17-year-old) the fireworks before they were lit and Kai encouraging (the 17-year-old) to do this.

"It was, it is suggested, the precursor for the altogether more tragic events that occurred shortly afterwards."

Mrs Smith's son, Alan Smith, said: "Losing Mum in such a horrible way has haunted our entire family. Mum was so loved by all of us and had many more happy years ahead of her.

"To see justice done today may hopefully help us to begin to move forward very slowly.

"The issue surrounding the sale of fireworks to the public is a fight that we intend to continue. In addition, the irresponsible way those fireworks were sold on that night haunts all of us that have seen the footage."

Kai Cooper will be sentenced at a later date
Kai Cooper will be sentenced at a later date. Picture: Met Police

According to a statement from Cooper's girlfriend, the 19-year-old had been laughing as his younger friend ran across the road to Mrs Smith's house.

Ms Stonecliffe said: "It was her view that (the 17-year-old) would not have put the firework through the door if Kai had not suggested it."

Cooper, from Leatherhead, Surrey, was remanded into custody and will be sentenced at a later date at the Old Bailey.

The other male, aged 15 at the time of the incident, has previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arson with recklessness as to whether life was endangered and affray.

He will be sentenced at a later hearing.

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