‘A tragic accident’ - Suffolk great-grandfather died following house fire
PUBLISHED: 18:07 17 October 2019 | UPDATED: 18:35 17 October 2019
An inquest into the death of an 81-year-old man who died in a house fire near Bungay has concluded he died by accident.
William James English, known as Billy, was found by police officers on the floor of the smokelogged kitchen at the house in Low Street, Ilketshall St Margaret, near Bungay on March 16.
Mr English was dragged from the semi-detached house and police and paramedics performed CPR at the scene for an hour until he was taken to James Paget Hospital in Goreleston, but was pronounced dead early on March 17.
An inquest in Ipswich on Thursday October 17 recorded his death as accidental and the cause of death as smoke inhalation.
Station Commander Mark Walker of Suffolk Fire Service, who investigated the blaze, told the inquest the fire started in a cupboard under the stairs and was most likely caused by unextinguished matches or tea lights.
The inquest heard Mr English had spent the evening before the fire with his son-in-law, Gary Minns.
Mr Minns said: "I would drive to see him every Saturday and we'd get fish and chips, or sometimes I would cook for him.
"We had dinner at my house but he started to look quite tired so I drove him home and I left him about 8.45pm."
"He seemed fine when I left him. If he smelled smoke when he got home he would have said something."
At about 10pm a neighbour, Cheryl Johns, reported hearing two loud bangs.
The explosions were caused by two 190g butane bottles - which exploded with such force that doors were damaged and latches on the window and loft hatch were smashed.
In a statement to the court she said she could not find any explanation inside her own house for the noise but noticed a "strong smell of bonfire" in her loft, which was connected to Mr English's.
Her husband called the emergency services and PC Stephanie Brett was among three police officers first on the scene.
PC Brett said: "We arrived and my colleague checked the rear of the property and saw a man on the floor of the kitchen.
"The smoke was thick, black and acrid. We were able to break the door down and another officer was able to drag Billy out of the house and I started to perform mouth-to-mouth while another officer started chest compressions.
"We kept that up for about 30 minutes at the scene until the paramedics took over."
The inquest heard Mr English was likely trying to put the fire out when he fell unconscious due to smoke inhalation as a running tap and bucket were found in the kitchen.
His daughter, Hazel Fenn, from Beccles, said after the inquest: "I want to thank the emergency services and the neighbours for all of their work on the night, we are so grateful for everything they did."
Suffolk coroner Nigel Parsley echoed the families sentiment, praising the bravery of the officers.
He fell in love with his next door neighbour, Sheila, and the couple were married at the medieval Ilketshall St Margaret church and had five children.
Mrs Fenn said he never recovered from his wife's death from cancer in 2001, but the village was his life and he was proud of his home and his neighbours.
"He would always pick up every bit of rubbish - when he would come visit me he would walk up my drive carrying a bag of litter," she added.
According to his daughter, Revd. Sam Lee would call on the local legend regularly for his knowledge on villagers and said "his knowledge of the local people was like an encyclopedia."
On April 8 more than 150 mourners gathered in the small village church to see off the man described as a "gentle man and a gentleman".
Mr English's daughters Hazel and Anne, son-in-law Gary and grand-daughters Rachel and Lisa all attended the inquest on October 17.
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