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Inquiry into murder of firework blaze victim continues, inquest told

Coroner James Bennett offered his sympathies to the daughter of Anthony Nicholls, whose home was targeted by arsonists.

Firework damage inside the home of Anthony Nicholls (West Midlands Police/PA)
Firework damage inside the home of Anthony Nicholls (West Midlands Police/PA)

By Matthew Cooper, PA

A former car worker died from severe burns after a 210-shot firework was pushed “fizzing and smoking” towards his feet by intruders who kicked in his front door, an inquest heard.

The hearing at Birmingham was told a murder inquiry is continuing into the death of Anthony Nicholls, who was forced to flee upstairs after he and his partner were “exposed to shots” from the industrial device.

The city’s Assistant Coroner, James Bennett, was told criminal damage had been caused to the victim’s semi-detached house on the two days before the arson attack on the night of November 2 2017.

Mr Nicholls – who told firefighters the intruders had claimed to be police officers – was trapped in an upstairs bedroom and died in hospital five days later from “unsurvivable” burns and injuries linked to smoke inhalation.

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The scene of the arson attack in Tile Cross (Aaron Chown/PA)

Detective Sergeant James Herring told the inquest that three people, one carrying a large item, were caught on CCTV heading towards and away from Mr Nicholls’ home in Birchtrees Crescent, Tile Cross, Birmingham.

He told the coroner: “It remains a live investigation and we are still actively seeking those involved in the murder.”

Relating accounts given to police by 56-year-old Mr Nicholls before his death and by his partner Maria Jones, who suffered a broken leg when she jumped from a first floor window, Mr Herring added: “Both Tony Nicholls and Maria Jones were sitting down in the living room eating a meal.

“A large lit firework was slid along the hallway.”

Mr Nicholls was heard shouting “help me, I am burning in here” before he was pulled from an upstairs window by four firefighters who performed first aid.

According to the account of Ms Jones, who has since died from a cause unrelated to the fire, the large firework box was “fizzing and smoking and stopped at the feet of Tony” and then “went off setting curtains and other items alight.”

In a statement read to the inquest by a police officer on behalf of the victim’s daughter, Fiona, she expressed sadness that her father would not get to walk her down the aisle at her wedding.

“It has been just over two years since my dad was murdered and my life changed forever,” she said. “My dad was a kind, caring and funny man whose life was cut short by this wicked act.

“They have not only stolen my dad’s future but they have stolen mine as well.”

Recording a narrative verdict that Mr Nicholls died from injuries caused by the deliberate activation of a large firework, Mr Bennett said he was satisfied that the victim’s account to police was accurate.

The coroner told Mr Nicholls’ daughter: “I am very sorry for your loss and I obviously hope that those responsible are brought to justice in the future.”

PA

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