Belfast Telegraph

Smoking accident led to man's death in fire

By Brendan McDaid

A former publican was overcome when discarded smoking materials sparked a fire at his home, an inquest has heard.

Brian O’Kane (67) was found dead with his mobile phone in his hand in the living room of his bungalow in Londonderry on the evening of November 10, 2010.

He was discovered by a taxi driver and friend who, on becoming concerned for his welfare, entered the house in the Westway area of Creggan with a neighbour.

Mr O’Kane was last seen at around 7pm the day before he was found when the same taxi driver, Kenny Duffy, left him home.

An autopsy revealed that the deceased, who was an alcoholic, was three-and-a-half times over the legal limit for driving at the time of his death.

The father-of-three had returned to his native Derry after spending decades as a pub landlord in Wiltshire and Hampshire in England. Mr Duffy told the inquest he became concerned for Mr O’Kane, a “customer and good friend”, after he failed to respond to text messages and phonecalls.

He said a daily routine had developed whereby Mr O’Kane would be ferried by himself to the Crusty Bap cafe for his lunch, and then collected at around 7pm from the Crescent Bar.

After texting Mr O’Kane’s brother John, Mr Duffy went to his house, knocked, and on noticing the windows were blackened and cracked, contacted Neil Doherty, who lived two doors away.

Mr Doherty said when Mr Duffy came to his door at around 6.30pm “he was panicking in case something was wrong”.

Mr Doherty decided to climb in an open side window to check the house. “I went into the living room and my leg caught on something. Brian was slumped across the chair,” he said.

Maria McKenna, senior scientific officer with Forensic Science Northern Ireland, examined the bungalow the day after the fire, which had burned itself out before Mr O’Kane was discovered.

She told the inquest, sitting in Magherafelt yesterday, that the fire had started in the living room.

Following forensic tests on various items, Ms McKenna said: “I concluded that the fire had originated in the vicinity of an armchair in the living room, probably as the result of careless disposal of smoking materials.”

Northern Ireland assistant state pathologist James Lynas said an autopsy had revealed soot staining of the windpipe and airways, indicating that Mr O’Kane was alive when the fire started.

It also uncovered severe degenerative narrowing of the coronary arteries, which reduced the blood supply to the heart. The pathologist also found that Mr O’Kane had 283mg of alcohol in 100mls of blood at the time of his death.

“He was severely intoxicated at the time of his death,” Dr Lynas said. He said that this would have prevented him from being able to get out of the house and also made him more susceptible to the smoke, and was therefore an additional contributory factor.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson concluded that Mr O’Kane’s death had been a “tragic accident”.

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