Rye man died after clothing caught alight — (Rye and Battle Observer)

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A RYE man is believed to have died after his clothes caught fire at his Military Road home an inquest heard this week.

Former Merchant Navy engineer William O’Neill died during the afternoon of January 25 this year.

Mr O’Neill suffered mobility problems following an industrial accident in 1999 which effectively ended the career he loved.

Fire investigators believe that his clothes may have caught light as he tried to turn off or adjust a coal effect gas fire or that he may have stumbled against it.

His wife Margaret told the inquest: “The accident had an enormous effect on him. He was told he could not do the job he loved anymore after 30 years.  He could not take that. It was the end for him.”

The inquest heard that he was on antidepressants until a few months before his death and would drink heavily while going through a low period.

A toxicology report following his death, found that Mr O’Neill had a blood alcohol reading of 450mg – nearly five times above the drink drive limit.

The coroner said that this level of alcohol could have proved fatal in some people.

The inquest heard that it had been bitterly cold on that day and Mr O’Neill was sitting in his armchair wearing layers of clothing and a coat.

Mrs O’Neill said: “I was going out for an hour and as it was so cold I put the fire on, even though he said he did not want it on. I never saw him again after that.”

Home Office forensic scientist Huw Turk said: “I believe he became ignited as he was trying to adjust the fire.

“It seemed to be brief and rapid. His lack of mobility would have affected his ability to respond.”

Fire Investigator Mark Hobbs  said: “There was fire damage to a cushion and the edge of the chair consistent with someone being alight moving through a room.

“Ignition was likely caused by clothing coming into contact with the gas flame and the fire spread rapidly.

“It is possible that alcohol could have splashed on his clothing and the vapours ignited but we cannot be certain.”

The coroner called for more information and improved standards of  fire resistance in clothing after hearing  there had been eight fatalities in Sussex in the last decade where clothing had caught fire.

Mr Hobbs said: “Other than children’s night wear there are no restrictions as to whether clothing is flame proof. In America they have higher standards on this.”

He said there were a number of smoke alarms which were all working.

The coroner told Mrs O’Neill that she should not blame herself in any way for her husband’s death.

In recording a verdict of accidental death, he said:  “No one could have foreseen what would happen that afternoon.

He added: “There is a wider issue here in making people aware of the dangers and the fact there needs to be more stringent requirements on adult clothing in this country.”