THE boyfriend of a young woman who died in a house fire more than 16 months ago has been charged by police in connection with her death.

John Collings, 47, had been living with 30-year-old university graduate Victoria Barker in a ground-floor flat at Coquet Gardens, South Stanley when fire ripped through the home.

Mr Collings, who now lives in the Tyne Valley, was arrested in Hexham at 8.30am today.

He was questioned at Durham City police station before being charged in the late afternoon.

He will appear before Peterlee magistrates tomorrow morning.

At the time of Victoria's death neighbours described how they could hear Victoria's cries during the blaze at about 11am on Saturday, August 12, 2000.

A post-mortem established she died from smoke inhalation but the cause of the fire has since been the subject of close examination.

A number of items recovered from the scene have been the subject of detailed tests from fire investigation specialists from the Home Office laboratory in Wetherby, North Yorkshire.

Expert medical opinion has also been sought by investigators who have been in close consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service about the findings.

Mr Collings was treated in hospital after the blaze but later recovered.

Miss Barker had a degree in biological science from York University. She had worked at the National Rivers Authority which later became the Environment Agency for about nine years.

She had attended Park View Comprehensive in Chester-le-Street until she was 18.