Harpenden pensioner died of choking St Albans Cathedral lunch

Hatfield Coroner's Court

Hatfield Coroner's Court - Credit: Archant

A pensioner died accidentally after choking on a large piece of food during a parish lunch at St Albans Cathedral, a coroner ruled on Tuesday.

Geoffrey Dignum, of Copper Beeches, Milton Road in Harpenden, passed away at Watford General Hospital on March 16 earlier this year when medical staff were unable to revive him.

The 71-year-old, who had Parkinson’s disease, attended the lunch in the Abbey Refectory and was in “good spirits” and was chatting to fellow diners when it appeared he had difficulty swallowing.

West Herts Coroner Mr Edward Thomas told the inquest at Hatfield Coroner’s Court that when Mr Dignum was unable to clear the food after drinking water a nurse was called.

Attempts were made to clear his airway by striking him hard on the back but when these failed the Sub Dean, the Rev Richard Watson, rang the emergency services just before 2pm.


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An ambulance crew attended with a doctor who was able to remove a large piece of meat which was stuck down the Mr Dignum’s throat and had obstructed his airways.

At the hospital further resuscitation attempts were made but he could not be revived and was confirmed dead.

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He had last seen his consultant physician roughly a month before his death. His condition had been relatively stable and his swallowing was reportedly intact.

A post-mortem examination read out at the inquest noted he had congestive heart failure and ischaemic heart disease, which the coroner said contributed to his death.

It also revealed that the pieces of food found in his stomach were poorly chewed and his teeth were not in great condition.

Mr Thomas recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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