Mystery of man’s fire death in garden — (The Bexhill-on-Sea Observer)

SSRI Ed note: Widower given antidepressants following death of wife and stroke, pours petrol over himself and sets it on fire. Coroner records open verdict.

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The Bexhill-on-Sea Observer

14:46 Thursday 09 June 2005

AN 80-year-old Bexhill man went into his garden, poured petrol on himself and set it on fire.
This week an inquest was held into the death of William Wilmott of Pipers Close, with Hastings coroner Alan Craze recording an open verdict.
Having heard the evidence of this “very sad and tragic case”, the coroner felt unable to return any other verdict because of inconclusive evidence, the question being Mr Wilmott’s mental health at the time.
Mr Craze said: “”It might have been a possibility that at the time he was not fully aware of what he was doing,” he said.
Next-door neighbour Jeffrey Weeks told how he had woken up in the early hours of January 5 and noticed a red glow on his ceiling.
“I went to the window and looked across and saw Bill – he was on fire in his garden, running around in a circle.”
He described how he heard shouts for help, and said: “He was obviously in pain and screaming.”
His partner Joy d’Warte immediately rang emergency services, while Mr Weeks ran to help Mr Wilmott, managing to beat the fire down and douse the flames but by this time the pensioner was no longer conscious.
With family members present, the inquest heard Ms d’Warte describe her former neighbour as “a real gent, a likeable person, very caring – a really nice man.”
He was affected by the death of his wife in 2001, because they were “soulmates” but, she said: “He never spoke in a morbid way, he was always positive about things.”
A retired installations inspector, last year he suffered a stroke, followed by episodes of depression and sleeping problems.
He was prescribed anti-depressants, but had problems with medication which helped him sleep but caused him unwelcome side-effects. He objected to feeling groggy in the morning so asked for his doseage to be reduced.
Witnesses were questioned by Mr Craze as to whether they noticed any suicidal tendency in his behaviour, or any particular change in his mood.
His daughter Rosemary had spoken to him just six hours before his death and said: “It was – what have you had for lunch? How was your day? Just the normal phone call of every evening.”
Son Robert described how Mr Wilmott had been affected by an accident at work in 1970 in which he had been badly burned.
Working for London Electricity Board, he was caught in an explosion caused by an electrical short, setting his hair and clothes on fire and causing 45 percent burns.
He was treated at Mount Burnham Hospital in Ruislip, where he stayed for six months followed by three months rehabilitation.
During this time he met a young woman who had doused herself with petrol and set herself on fire. “I remember how shocked he was. It seemed to stay with him.”
He went on to say his father’s recent vivid bad dreams seemed to be sparked by memories of this time.
Following the inquest, Robert Wilmott said: “We think it is a good verdict. It is what we were hoping for.”