CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Camden Town blaze: Man died after accidentally setting fire to his bed

Smoke detector batteries had been removed due to bleeping, inquest told

04 July, 2017 — By William McLennan

The scene of the fire in Hawley Road

A FORMER painter and decorator died on Boxing Day after accidentally setting fire to his bed when he fell asleep at his Camden Town home, an inquest has heard.

John McKelvey was asleep when the fire began, but was quickly overcome by fumes as his bedsheets caught light, St Pancras Coroner’s Court was told on Thursday.

The fire brigade were called by a member of the public who saw smoke coming from the top floor of a block of flats in Hawley Road at around 8.30am on December 26 last year. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus fought through thick black smoke and had to break down Mr McKelvey’s door to access the flat, the court heard. After dousing flames, they found the 46-year-old’s body.

In a statement read to the court, firefighter Anthony Marshall said: “By the nature of his injuries, he was very clearly dead.” Forensic scientists were forced to take DNA samples and compare it to that of a relative in order to confirm Mr McKelvey’s identity.

Despite a history of alcohol dependence and blackouts, the court heard that his council home was not fitted with a fire alarm, while the batteries had been removed from a smoke alarm outside his front door “because of the beeping”.

Jason Harvey, one of the first firefighters on the scene from Kentish Town station, said: “There was a smoke detector on the ceiling of the second floor that wasn’t going off.” The court heard that a communal door was often left wedged open by a doormat because Mr McKelvey frequently lost his key.

Mr McKelvey, who drank heavily, was a recovering heroin addict, who had relapsed into more frequent use following the death of his mother in July 2015. Detectives at first treated the fire as suspicious and investigated whether it had been started by Mr McKelvey or a third party.

Coroner Mary Hassell ruled this out and said that his death had been the result of an accident. “I have given consideration to the possibility that this fire was started deliberately – there’s no evidence whatsoever for the involvement of any other person in the fire,” she said.

Ms Hassell added: “I’m conscious that Mr McKelvey had attempted to take his life in the past, but this had always been by way of injection of heroin, and there is no evidence at all to suggest that he started the fire deliberately. I think what’s much more likely is that the fire began as a consequence of the careless disposal of smoking materials, be that lighter or match or candle.”

A post-mortem examination showed the presence of smoke in Mr McKelvey’s lungs, indicating he had been alive when the blaze began.

Ms Hassell said: “He had drunk alcohol and so is likely to have been slightly less rousable than he had been otherwise, and he was on his bed when he was found. It seems to me the strong likelihood is he was unaware of the fire having started and he was asleep, he was overcome by the inhalation of fire fumes and rendered unconscious and then he died as a consequence of the fire.”

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