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Brave Norwich bedsit blaze survivor relives her inferno ordeal

PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 May 2010 | UPDATED: 16:22 01 July 2010

LAYLA SKALLI WAS  BURNT IN A HOUSE FIRE. SHE SUFFERED UP TO 90pc BURNS BUT MANAGED TO SURVIVE

LAYLA SKALLI WAS BURNT IN A HOUSE FIRE. SHE SUFFERED UP TO 90pc BURNS BUT MANAGED TO SURVIVE

Ben Kendall

A woman who confounded doctors by surviving a blaze in her death-trap Norwich bedsit has spoken about her fight to rebuild her life - but said "I will be disfigured for ever.

A woman who confounded doctors by surviving a blaze in her death-trap Norwich bedsit has spoken about her fight to rebuild her life - but said “I will be disfigured for ever.”

Layla Skalli was given virtually no chance of survival after suffering 80pc burns in a fire in her room in Magdalen Street. She was carried from the flames by firefighters but her body was so hot that it burnt through the heat resistant tunic of one of her rescuers.

On Friday she saw her landlord, Michael Billings, jailed for 30 months after he admitted breaching a string of fire and health and safety regulations. He had previous convictions for flouting such laws and police, believing Miss Skalli might die, had originally investigated the case as potential manslaughter.

Health and Safety officials said Billings' actions - including failing to maintain fire alarms - had made it impossible for Miss Skalli to escape unharmed. Other residents jumped from windows to survive.

Miss Skalli, 20, welcomed the sentence and added: “Now I want every landlord to make sure the properties they let are safe.”

In April last year she had gone to bed following a shift as a barmaid at the Regal pub in Dereham Road. The next thing she remembered is coming round in hospital.

She had been knocked unconscious and saved when firefighters smashed her bedroom window open only seconds before an explosion in her room.

She was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital but immediately transferred to a specialist burns unit in Chelmsford.

Her parents, Norwich restaurateurs Hakim and Jackie, were told she might not survive the journey. Miss Skalli said: “Telling them I had less than 1pc chance was a nicer way of saying 'she's going to die'.”

As well as the burns, she had near-lethal carbon monoxide levels and organ failure.

Twelve hours later, stunned she was still alive, doctors tried a revolutionary technique. The nine-hour operation, the first of its kind in the UK, removed all of her burned skin. Medics then grew a new “suit” of skin from cells taken from Miss Skalli and from donors.

Fortunately she had instinctively covered her face with her hands during the fire, meaning it was virtually untouched.

Miss Skalli, a cookery student at City College Norwich, said: “My life and my family were destroyed by this man's actions. When he let the room to me he would have known he was breaking the law. It was not safe and I have paid a very high price. I am disfigured for life.”

She also blames Billings for the death of her mother after an accidental combination of pills and wine on New Year's Eve, saying: “Mum would never have been on the bills if it wasn't for the fire.”

There is a high chance Miss Skalli will develop lung cancer because of the smoke she inhaled and she cannot visit hot countries because of her skin condition. “A £5 smoke alarm would have saved all this,” she said.

Additional reporting: Kelly Strange/photo-features

t Do you have a crime story for the Evening News? Contact crime correspondent Ben Kendall on 01603 772423 or email ben.kendall@archant.co.uk

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