Firework letterbox prank killed elderly woman, court told

A teenager declared “people are going to get terrorised tonight” as he bought a Megaburst firework which was later stuffed through the letterbox of a house, killing the elderly occupant, a court has heard.

Kai Cooper is on trial over the death of 88-year-old Josephine Smith, who is believed to have been asleep in bed when the firework let off two successive explosions and set her home ablaze on October 28 2021.

On Thursday, Heidi Stonecliffe KC told a jury at the Old Bailey that Cooper was accompanied by a younger boy, now aged 17, when he visited a firework shop in Romford, east London, earlier that evening.

Cooper allegedly told the shopkeeper: “I want something that is going to go far and quick.”

He went on to allegedly tell his girlfriend outside: “Hey babes, come here. I’m trying to get fireworks, let them off at people. People are going to get terrorised tonight.”

Having paid for the fireworks, Cooper also bought two lighters from a Co-op shop, jurors heard.

He and his 17-year-old friend then walked towards Mrs Smith’s house in Queens Park Road, where she lived alone.

Mrs Smith “was entirely unknown” to the pair.

The prosecutor said: “It is a tragically random incident. That makes it no less serious or tragic.”

Josephine Smith death
The house in Queens Park Road in Romford where Josephine Smith died in a blaze which started when a firework was put through her letterbox (Ian West/PA)

Ms Stonecliffe said: “It is the Crown’s contention that 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.”

The 17-year-old took a Megaburst firework and ran across the road towards Mrs Smith’s house, where she was in bed and likely asleep, the court heard.

He then lit the firework and put it through the letterbox, jurors were told.

Ms Stonecliffe went on: “Two explosions occurred in swift succession, just like others that (the defendants) had set off in the street.

“They caused a fire to start, which burned through Mrs Smith’s house.

“By the time the fire service had arrived, the property had filled with smoke and Mrs Smith was found, already sadly deceased, in the upstairs bedroom of the house.

“Efforts made to revive her were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at 11.09pm.”

Cooper and the youth, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had left the scene long before, the court was told.

The prosecutor said there is no dispute that Cooper and the other youth bought fireworks and lighters that night, all paid for by Cooper, or that one of them was put through Mrs Smith’s door.

The only issue for the jury to consider is whether Cooper was party to the offences by encouraging and assisting the younger defendant, she said.

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, denies arson and manslaughter and the trial continues.

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