Belfast Telegraph

Portadown pensioner death: Alarm raised over gas fear - friends 'heartbroken'

Levaghery Gardens in Portadown, yesterday
Levaghery Gardens in Portadown, yesterday
Victor Pickering
Deputy Lord Mayor Margaret Tinsley

By Mairead Holland

A pensioner who died at a house in Portadown on Wednesday afternoon has been described as a "gentleman" who always made time for others.

He has been named locally as 84-year-old Victor Pickering.

He was found unconscious at his home in Levaghery Close in the town on Wednesday.

His wife Betty, also in her 80s, was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital, where she was still being treated yesterday.

Police have said that at this stage they do not believe anyone else was involved in the incident.

The couple, who have lived in the area for at least 20 years, have been in poor health in recent times.

Their only child, Paul, was out of the country on holiday when the tragedy unfolded.

It is believed that a friend of Mr Pickering's had phoned him a number of times on Wednesday, but when he failed to reach him, he then made his way to the house. He is understood to have called the emergency services after peering through the letterbox and smelling gas.

A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service spokesman said it received a call at 4.53pm of a male in an unconscious state.

Two rapid response paramedics, two ambulance crews, a Hazardous Area Response Team officer (HART), as well as the charity air ambulance with a helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) crew on board, attended the incident.

The air ambulance landed in the car park of Portadown Free Presbyterian Church, opposite the couple's home.

Yesterday, the house remained sealed off with a police car parked outside the driveway.

Shocked neighbours in the quiet cul-de-sac described Mr and Mrs Pickering as a "lovely couple who lived for each other".

One woman, who has lived next door for more than 20 years, said they were "really good neighbours".

"They were quiet, private people. They had a lovely home and Betty always used to be out working in the garden," she said.

Another man, a close friend of Mr Pickering's who didn't wish to be named, said that he is still in shock after hearing the news.

"The word 'gentleman' was made for people like Victor," he said.

"Apart from my family, I would count him among one of the main influences in my life. In fact, he was like family to me.

"He was a huge support when my parents died and when I was going through a period of ill-health myself, he visited me in hospital and would have brought me books.

"He was there for me any time I needed him. I last heard from him about three weeks ago. It's just hard to take in. Our thoughts are also with Betty and their son Paul at this time."

Mr Pickering was a member of 1st Portadown BB Old Boys' Association, of which he was an honorary life member and former secretary.

He and his wife were also members of 1st Presbyterian Church (Edenderry) Portadown.

Kenneth Twyble, a veteran UUP councillor with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, said he had known Mr Pickering "for a lifetime" and was "heartbroken" at his death.

He said: "I always found him to be a most gracious and humble man who gave a lifetime of service to young people, mainly through the Boys' Brigade and the wider church.

"Lately, he continued service through the BB Old Boys' Association."

Police are continuing to investigate the incident.

Detective Chief Inspector Eamonn Corrigan said: "Detectives are working to establish the full circumstances surrounding this death.

"At this stage we do not believe anyone else was involved in this incident. Our enquiries are continuing."

Deputy Lord Mayor Margaret Tinsley said the community was shocked and deeply saddened.

"I was at a senior citizens' lunch just around the corner in Killicomaine and they were all upset about it," she said.

"It's a very quiet area, with people who have lived beside each other as neighbours for many years."

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