St Albans pensioner died after falling asleep smoking, inquest hears

PUBLISHED: 06:00 24 May 2015

Hatfield Coroner's Court

Hatfield Coroner's Court

Archant

A bedbound pensioner died from third degree burns after his clothing and bedding caught alight when he fell asleep while smoking a cigarette in bed.

Daniel Walker, 72, of Cyrils Way in St Albans, died on October 3 last year.

At an inquest on Tuesday Deputy Coroner Graham Danbury described Mr Walker as a heavy smoker who was “bedbound and had regular carers visiting him at home”.

Giving evidence, Detective Inspector Peter Frost, St Albans, said that an emergency call was made by two carers who encountered a “wall of smoke” after opening Mr Walker’s front door on October 3.

The inquest was told that a woman living in the flat above Mr Walker told officers that her carbon monoxide alarm went off at about 5pm that day but she had been unable to establish the cause.

Fire station commander, Paul Macdonald, said that when firefighters had arrived at the premises at about 7pm, they “found Mr Walker in the bedroom, and he appeared deceased”.

They had not needed to don breathing apparatus to enter the flat safely as while there was still some smoke the fire had run its course by that stage.

Mr Macdonald said that an investigation into the cause of the fire “appeared to be smoking material. We found the remainder of a cigarette in his hand.”

Clothing and bedding on his right hand side had caught alight – but not fully.

Mr Macdonald said that while Mr Walker had a carbon monoxide and smoke alarm in his home, “neither had been activated. They may have been working, but they may have run their course”.

Asked when the fire was likely to have begun, he said that given the neighbour’s comments about her carbon monoxide alarm sounding at 5pm, it was likely to have begun then but it had dissipated after “using up available oxygen and fuel”.

Mr Danbury asked: “The nature of the fire would have produced a lot of smoke and that would have rendered him unconscious at an early stage?”

Mr Macdonald replied: “That is correct.”

A post mortem carried out by Dr Matilda Ralph, West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust, said the cause of death was third degree burns.

Addressing members of Mr Walker’s family attending the inquest, Mr Danbury said that an investigation by fire and police showed that he “was in the habit of smoking regularly and on this occasion probably dozed off with his cigarette in his hand and set fire to the bedding”.

He concluded that it was an accidental death.


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