Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Frail pensioner died after setting fire to himself

A 73-year-old man died from burns after accidentally setting light to his clothes with a cigarette, an inquest has found.

A friend found William Joseph Smith, who was being treated for cancer at the time of the tragedy, slumped in the kitchen of his Newtownards home — just days before he was to move to a residential home.

Speaking after the inquest into his death, two of his daughters explained that they wanted their father to move to alternative accommodation as they were concerned about him living alone in the first floor flat at Ardmillan Crescent as he was growing increasingly frail as a result of his illness.

Anne McDonald and Sylvia Rice, both present for yesterday’s hearing in Belfast, helped to care for their father, also known as Billy, in the months leading up to his death on February 6 last year.

Mrs McDonald said: “I had been saying that I thought it was an accident waiting to happen. I was worried that he was going to fall down the stairs. We had just found a place for him in a residential home and we told him he was going to move and he was happy enough. A few hours later he was dead.”

Her sister, Mrs Rice, continued: “He was getting weaker but he never complained about his illness. The social services had got him into the home he wanted to be in and I really do think he had a good few months left. He was supposed to move into the home but it wasn’t to be.”

The inquest heard that on a number of occasions Mr Smith, a retired factory worker, fell asleep while smoking in the months preceding his death.

Julian Halligan, a senior scientific officer, carried out an investigation of the scene and explained that he believed the fatal fire was as a result of a cigarette as oppose to a spark from the fire in the living room because of the situation of burns on Mr Smith.

“Any spark coming from the fire would have landed further down,” he said.

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