Coroner rules flat fire victim was unlawfully killed

By Tim Clarke 13/04 Updated: 13/04 11:27

Buy photos » Victim - Andrew Heath. (s)

A WARNDON man who emerged from his bed to find his flat on fire and filled with thick choking smoke, was unlawfully killed a coroner has found.

The body of Andrew Heath, 52, was discovered by firefighters in the lounge of his first floor Chedworth Close flat in the early hours of December 14 after a suspected arson attack on his home.

The blaze was started after a wheelie bin was set alight and then pushed up against his front door.

Investigators say the fire would have burnt through his front door in about ten minutes before spreading up the stairs and into the hallway of Mr Heath's flat. Worcestershire coroner Geraint Williams recorded a verdict of unlawful killing at an inquest into Mr Heath's death on Wednesday (April 12) after accepting the fire had been started deliberately.

A pathologist's report found Mr Heath died as a result of inhaling the toxic fumes which engulfed his flat, although health problems including heart disease also contributed to his death.

Station Commander Neil Lilwall, from Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, told the inquest they had received an emergency call from Mr Heath just before 4am - no more than half an hour before the fire is estimated to have started.

"We believe Mr Heath was in bed at the time of the fire and heard the fire alarm going off," Mr Lilwall said.

"From the phone call he actually said there was a fire at his front door so we assume he looked down the stairs and saw the fire. We know he went to the lounge if he had any issues and would bang on the floor to alert his neighbours and they confirmed he did that. "We also know from the phone call he was having trouble breathing at the time."

The inquest heard how the fire was so severe by the time the first three fire crews arrived flames were coming through the first floor window. A team of firefighters wearing breathing apparatus battled their way up the stairs and into Mr Heath's flat where there was no visibility. After ventilating the flat they found Mr Heath's body underneath an open lounge window.

A search of the area outside the flat's front door uncovered the remains of wheels off a bin.

Detective Inspector Neil Austin said it was unlikely Mr Heath would have been able to put the wheelie bin in front of his own front door.

"The porch is quite a tight area and from the position of the bin I don't think anyone would be able to have done that from the inside," he said. Forty officers are still involved in the police investigation into Mr Heath's death but his killers remain at large despite a reward of £20,000. Ten arrests have so far been made by police and seven people remain on police bail while enquiries continue.

Buy photos» Forensic teams carried out a thorough search of Mr Heath’s flat on Chedworth Close. Picture by Marcus Mingins 5111031MMR3.

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