A CLECKHEATON man who died in a fire in his home had set fire to his previous property, an inquest heard.
Samuel Harrell, of Boundary Street, was discovered dead as firefighters battled the blaze in his detached bungalow which broke out in the early hours in October 10 last year.
The Huddersfield inquest heard that the 74-year-old, who lived alone, had suffered from alcohol abuse for many years and was the equivalent of three-and-a-half times over the legal drink-drive limit when he died.
Drinking sometimes caused the divorced man to express worrying thoughts about harming himself and in the past drink had resulted in him setting fire to his former home and threatening to harm himself with a knife.
Pathologist Dr Andrew Jackson told the inquest that the pensioner died from excessive smoke inhalation, likely soon after the fire started, teamed with the heart disease that he was already known to have suffered from along with high alcohol intake.
Tests showed that Mr Harrell’s body contained a high level of alcohol – 287 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood – which is the equivalent of 15 single measures of spirits. An empty spirits bottle was found near to the pensioner’s body.
Ross McCall, a firefighter based at Batley fire station, said it would have been impossible for anyone to survive the blaze, which started in the bedroom of Mr Harrell’s home.
The hearing revealed that Mr Harrell called paramedics to his home over two days before he died. On the first occasion he told staff he had suffered a fall and had appeared to have been drinking. He refused to go to hospital for a check-up and instead asked paramedics with help getting into his bed to sleep it off.
The following day, paramedics were called to his home again, but he appeared agitated when they arrived and told them he didn’t need their help.
The pensioner, described by carers as a ‘lonely man’ who missed his family, served time in prison for breaching an Asbo which he received after setting fire to the previous home he had in sheltered accommodation at Church Grange, Cleckheaton.
Before he died, a team of mental health professionals had been working with Mr Harrell to help him overcome his problems and he was also on medication to help him keep off alcohol.
Dr David Brodie, consultant psychiatrist for Dewsbury District Hospital, said that Mr Harrell’s drink problems had a profound effect on his mental health.
He said: “He drank excessively and when he did that affected his mental health. Sometimes when he was under the influence of alcohol he would act in a way he wouldn’t normally do.
“When he was intoxicated he would threaten to harm himself, but then he would sober up and say ‘I don’t remember what I did’ or ‘I don’t feel like that now’ and say he felt embarrassed by what he had said.
“He was difficult to manage. The drug that influenced him was not what we did for him but what he drank.”
An investigation found the fire was deliberate and that ‘combustible materials’ in the bedroom had been lit.
Coroner Mr Roger Whittaker said that the pensioner’s high alcohol intake would have made him ‘more susceptible’ to the toxicity of the smoke fumes.
He said: “It’s clear that he had a variety of problems, all of which stemmed from his abuse of alcohol. The evidence leads me to conclude that he had expressed suicidal intentions during the course of being inebriated.
“There’s some doubt in my mind as to whether he could have formed the intention while under the influence, that’s why I discount suicide.
“But one conclusion that can be drawn is that the fire was deliberately set by Mr Harrell.”
Recording an open verdict, he added: “I offer Dr Brodie and all his staff my sympathy. I believe that they’ve done their best to assist this man and his unwillingness to conform to their advice, that he should no longer drink alcohol.”