A HAMPSHIRE-born fashion designer had complained there were no signs showing where fire exits were in the block of flats in which she lost her life in a devastating blaze.

Catherine Hickman's boyfriend of six years Mark Bailey told an inquest into her death today that she had asked him where the fire exits from the 11th floor flat in Lakanal House, Camberwell, London, were, and why there were no diagrams to show them where to go.

Two weeks before the blaze, he had asked a fireman handing out cigarette butt pouches in a park whether they could have a home visit to get advice, but the man said it was ''nothing to do with him'', the inquest heard.

Mr Bailey was away in New York at the time of the fire, and flew back to be with Miss Hickman's family in the New Forest.

They were told three or four days after the blaze that she had died.

He told the inquest: ''During that time I was feeling indescribable. I was overwhelmed by grief and I would wake up every night screaming and crying.

''I would wake up and think that Catherine was next to me, and then realise what had happened.''

A statement by Miss Hickman's father Pip on behalf of her family was read to the hearing by coroner Frances Kirkham.

Mr Hickman explained that the designer, who grew up in Romsey, had seen her work stocked by shops in New York, was commissioned by the singer Bjork and worked for French Connection as well as boutiques in London.

He said: ''Catherine lived a London life but was a country girl at heart. A life cruelly cut short when it was a life meant for living. All those who knew Catherine are heartbroken.''

The inquest was adjourned until tomorrow.