Belfast Telegraph

Cause of blaze that killed widower Victor Wilson remains mystery

By Cate McCurry

The cause of a house fire in Co Tyrone that killed an elderly widower cannot be determined, an inquest has heard.

Victor Wilson was found dead after a family member called at his home in Cookstown and discovered extensive fire damage and smoke in some of the rooms.

The inquest into his death heard that investigations into the blaze centred around an area in the living room opposite a wood-burning stove.

A forensic expert said there were a number of possibilities for the cause of the fire but he couldn't be certain what was behind it.

It's thought that 83-year-old Victor, who suffered from Alzheimer's, may have dropped a flammable item on the floor of his living room.

Police investigating the tragedy ruled out anything suspicious and said there were no signs of forced entry.

Julian Halligan, a forensic scientist, ruled out an electrical fault or the use of accelerants.

The widower, who lived alone, was found dead on his bedroom floor by family members on the morning of November 15 last year.

The retired landlord, who moved to Cookstown to stay with his family following the passing of his wife, died from smoke inhalation.

Family member Margaret Wilson, who was his carer, discovered the fire damage when she called at his home.

She initially could not find Victor and contacted her daughter and son-in-law, who rushed round.

They rang the emergency services when they discovered him.

Margaret's son-in-law Harold McKenzie found his body lying face down.

But while Harold and his wife searched for signs of life, they quickly realised he was dead.

"When I saw him lying on the floor I shouted his name, we turned him over and tried looking for signs of life," he said.

When asked about his Alzheimer's, he said: "He would have at times been forgetful, but other times he was fine."

Victor's nephew Harpur Wilson was the last person to see him alive after he called at his home hours before the blaze broke out.

Giving evidence during yesterday's inquest at Dungannon Courthouse, he said: "I got a phone call to say that Victor had been seen walking along Morgans Hill Road and I was concerned, as he had bad knees.

"I went to his house and he was in the sitting room and the log burner was lit. He was in good form.

"I left at around 8.20pm and that was the last time I saw him alive."

Harpur told the court that Victor liked to have the wood burning stove on in his living room. He also said that Victor could be "forgetful".

Dr James Lyness, Deputy State Pathologist, said that Victor's death was caused by smoke inhalation.

In his report, Dr Lyness stated that soot was found on his lips, mouth, throat, windpipe and airways - which indicated he was still alive when the fire started.

It also emerged that he had previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and suffered from a number of minor ailments.

Mr Halligan told the court that the fire started between two armchairs and that one of them was lying on its side. The armchairs were opposite the stove, and both of the stove's doors were open.

A smoke alarm with working batteries was found in the hallway.

Mr Halligan said that charred debris was found near the stove and that a melted slipper was found inside.

He said, however, that it was "unlikely" a spark came from the wood burning stove.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson said: "Perhaps he has taken something from the stove and dropped it.

"Maybe he saw the fire and tried to push the chair over.

"It's a set of very unusual circumstances."

Mr Halligan added: "It's very hard to know how this fire started.

"From my experience, it's a small but serious fire, but the actual cause is not straightforward."

In her findings, Ms Anderson said that while it was not possible to say how the fire started, she was satisfied it was accidental.

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