A MAN killed in a flat fire spent his final few moments surrounded by thick cloying smoke, a coroner was told.
Andrew Heath was found dead in the lounge of his first-floor flat in Chedworth Close, Warndon, Worcester, in December last year after someone set fire to a wheelie bin and pushed it up against his front door.
Worcestershire coroner Geraint Williams recorded a verdict of unlawful killing after being satisfied the fire was deliberately started.
The blaze flooded Mr Heath’s flat with deadly smoke, eventually overcoming the 52-year-old.
Mr Williams was also told of the scorching heat and ferocity of the flames during yesterday’s inquest.
Fire investigator Neil Lilwall said he estimated the blaze had been started in the bin set against the outside of the door at about 3.30am. It burnt through that door within 10 minutes.
“Because of the heat and the fire, it would have been impossible to escape through the front door,” he said.
Investigators worked out that Mr Heath had been in bed when the fire started and had been woken up by the smoke alarm at the top of his stairs. By that time, smoke was already in his flat and he was having trouble breathing, as his 999 call shows.
Station commander Lilwall said the fire first burnt a hole in the front door and then spread into the stairwell beyond and up into the hallway of Mr Heath’s flat.
He confirmed all the fire doors had done their job “very well” in holding back the flames.
But it was the thick clogging smoke – reducing visibility to nil for firefighters responding to the blaze – which killed Mr Heath. Home Office pathologist Dr Sasha Kolar said the retired bouncer’s health problems, including heart disease, had contributed to his death.
Fire investigators and police discovered the most damage in the front porch area, but there was no sign of accelerant.
He said Mr Heath had made his 999 call at 3.57am from the lounge, no more than half an hour after the fire was started outside.
“In his call he says there’s a fire outside his front door so we assume he looked down his stairs and saw the fire at the door,” said Mr Lilwall.
He said Mr Heath must have then retreated back to his lounge and shut his lounge door – a fire door – behind him but at some point opened his lounge window, which may have caused the fire to “backdraft”.
Detective Inspector Neil Austin said there was no likely way Mr Heath could have placed the bin himself.
“The wheelie bin was placed in the doorway and blocked any exit from the flat blocking the only doorway,” he said.
A police investigation into his death is ongoing but Mr Heath’s killers remain at large, despite a £20,000 reward for information.
We previously reported that Mr Heath had five convictions for for gross indecency and indecent assault against teenage boys in Leicester and Birmingham, but no offences since moving to Worcester 10 years ago.
comment: page 16