E-bike battery fires: Mum campaigns after daughter's death to change law on sale and storage

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A heartbroken mum is campaigning to change the law on e-bike batteries after her daughter died in a fire

The grieving mum of a model killed in an e-bike battery fire has made it her "only purpose" to use the tragedy to toughen up laws.

Sofia Duarte, 21, died when a blaze caused by a converted e-bike battery ripped through a flat block in south-east London. She had been staying at her boyfriend's in Bermondsey and was awoken by a fire alarm, but couldn't find her way out of the building as the flames spread on New Year's Day 2023.

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The London Fire Brigade (LFB) says Portuguese-born Sofia - whose 23rd birthday would have been on Thursday this week - was the first person to die in the city as a result of an e-bike fire. A year on from the death, mum Maria Frasquilho Macarro, 59, and friend Alda Simoes, 46, have launched a petition to change the laws around ownership and storage of e-bikes and batteries. The campaign - being hosted on Change.org - has already attracted more than 31,000 signatures.

Alda, a close friend of the family, said devastated Maria's "only purpose" was to use her daughter's death to inspire change. Alda said: "Maria told me 'I'm just waiting for God to take me now'. She still thinks about Sofia all the time. Trying to change something after Sofia's death is the only purpose she has."

Alda and Maria say a complete ban on e-bikes would be the best-case scenario. But, in lieu of such a wholesale change, they are asking that MPs consider toughening up the laws around ownership. Their campaign wants better "quality control and standards governing the sale of the lithium-ion batteries".

It also asks for "clear guidelines for proper handling and storage of these batteries" and "urgent research...to understand the dangers of conversion kits for e-bikes, batteries and chargers and inform the introduction of specific product safety standards."

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The petition concludes: "If measures are not taken, the number of deaths will increase and I am sure nobody wants this."

Alda, who lives in Tower Hamlets, east London, said she is still coming to terms with the death of her friend. But she too hopes the tragedy can be used for good.

She said: "I remember I had to stop the car to cry when I found out about Sofia's death. But I had to pull myself together to go and look after Sofia's mum because I didn't want to leave her alone. That first night was one of the worst of my life - hearing Maria's screaming, crying, and begging Sofia to come back. Sofia was a good person with a good heart and she would have done anything for anyone. The only comfort we can find is if we know her death saved the lives of others."

Mum Maria told the LFB earlier this year: “Sofia loved life, she loved to party and she enjoyed her job working behind the bar at a nightclub. Now all I have left is my daughter’s ashes. I really want to make sure her death is not in vain and if I can raise awareness about the dangers of e-bikes and lithium batteries then there will be a positive in this. If we can save someone else’s life, I will take great comfort in that because at the moment I am hurting. I don’t want others to suffer as much as I have done. Sofia meant the world to me and my family. I don’t know how to live without her. It feels like a nightmare and I can’t wake up.”

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E-bike conversion kits allow an electric motor to be added to bikes - but not all of them are sold with a battery. Cheaper batteries are available online but they do not always adhere to the UK’s safety regulations.

LFB's assistant commissioner for fire safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “We’re warning people that cheaper parts bought online are more likely to be unsafe, increasing the risk of a fire. We always recommend purchasing items from a reputable high-street seller. It is also essential to use the correct charger for the battery, otherwise the risk of fire is much greater. The Office for Product Safety and Standards are undertaking research into e-bike fires, but the outcomes from this research need to be released as soon as possible.

"Conversion kits for e-bikes are a real area of concern for us and there is a need to understand the safety of the product, and whether any specific standards need to be introduced. Along with conversion kits, batteries and chargers also require much-needed legislation to ensure these products are more strictly regulated.”

Alda and Maria are now waiting for a response to the petition from the Office for Product Safety and Standards. The petition is here: www.change.org/Sofia-Duarte

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