Original article no longer available
THURSDAY 14/12/2006 14:06:07
By: Press Association
An elderly woman returned home after attending Mass with her daughter to the horror of finding her husband ablaze in the garden of their County Antrim home, an inquest has heard.
Patrick Hughes, 74, was engulfed in flames outside his Randalstown bungalow on a hot September evening in 2005.
His frantic daughter tried to put out the flames by throwing water over her father’s burning clothes but was unsuccessful.
When the emergency services arrived Mr Hughes’ clothes were still smouldering and he was pronounced dead.
The Belfast inquest heard Mr Hughes had suffered from depression and had been on both tranquillisers and anti-depressants.
Forensic Scientist Walter McCorkell told the Belfast inquest a cloud of vapour from petrol had been ignited.
He said ignition was “by application of a naked flame such as a match or lighter.”
He added he was “ruling out accidental ignition such as by an electrical fault or electrical fire. From an examination of the scene I concluded ignition had to have been by direct ignition”
Mr McCorkell said a cigarette lighter taken from the scene had been submitted to the forensic science laboratory for examination.
A post mortem exam carried out by the State Pathologist concluded Mr Hughes died from extensive burns and revealed his body contained low levels of both an anti-depressant and tranquilliser.
The dead man’s son, Joseph, told the inquest he had been with his father before his sister and mother set off for Mass and had left arranging to see him again the next day.
“There was nothing in his demeanour to create a fear he would harm himself,” said the son.
He said his father had suffered from depression and he had previously attended a meeting between his father and the local GP.
“It was brought to my attention that father had encountered many personal difficulties with family life and in caring for my mother.”
He told Coroner Suzanne Anderson: “he had confided in me that in the past he had felt extremely depressed.”
However he added: “Subsequent to this conversation the matter had been resolved. There was no indication that my father would do anything to endanger his life.”
He said there were a number of containers outside his father`s home which contained flammable liquids including petrol, two-stroke, diesel and oil.
Mr Hughes added: “It was not uncommon for father to be in possession of such accelerants and it was common practice for him to utilise it to clean, restore or condition mechanical tools he used in his day to day chores.”
He said the Saturday his father died had been an extremely hot day with no wind.
It was his understanding vapour from the containers of liquid had been produced and because there was no wind had remained between the house and a high hedge and had somehow ignited.
Mr Hughes, who broke down in tears a number of times while giving evidence, added:
“We don`t know how. I have no reason to believe this was a deliberate act.”
The Coroner found the pensioner “died as a result of severe burns caused by petrol having been ignited”.
She gave no indication of how she thought it happened.