Former Royal Navy officer died from burns after dropping cigarette at Wakefield home, inquest hears

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A former Royal Navy officer died after dropping a cigarette at his home which set fire to his clothes and left him with severe burns, an inquest has been told.

Neighbours battled to save 86-year-old Eric Shepherd, after they realised that a fire had taken hold in the living room of his home in Hudswell Street, Wakefield, on January 18.

Assistant coroner Philip Holden concluded today that Mr Shepherd died from smoke inhalation, shock and burns.

Following the inquest, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service's deputy chief fire officer, Dave Walton, said: “This was a truly tragic case and our deepest condolences are with Mr Shepherd’s family.

“He was a proud man who had served a career in the Royal Navy before working in security and the court heard that he was devoted to the care of his wife until she had to move into a care home.

“Mr Shepherd had worked on submarines and travelled the world with the Royal Navy, and this is a terribly sad end to what must have been a colourful life.

“It’s a fact that smoking, mobility issues and living alone are reoccurring elements we see in fire deaths, especially among older generations.

“We hope the reporting of this case will go some way in raising awareness of the dangers among the public and prevent a similar tragedy happening again.”

An inquest held today at Wakefield Coroner’s Court heard evidence from West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s fire investigation officer, Ian Firth.

Mr Firth told the court how three engines from Wakefield, Ossett and Normanton stations had attended the mid-terrace house after receiving a call to the control room at 10.34pm.

The fire service was alerted by Carelink after Mr Shepherd, who lived alone, had pressed the pendant around his neck.

Two neighbours tried to help him after becoming aware of the fire.

One man smashed the glass panel in Mr Shepherd’s front door with a brick to get inside before pulling down one of the curtains, using it to smother the flames on Mr Shepherd, who was curled up close to the armchair where it is believed he had been smoking.

The second man applied a wet blanket to Mr Shepherd, while a third neighbour then came to help with a kitchen fire extinguisher.

The smoke alarm was sounding, the inquest heard.

Firefighters arrived at the scene and took over but Mr Shepherd was pronounced dead by a paramedic at 10.47pm.

Mr Firth attended the premises on the evening to begin an investigation into the cause of the fire.

He concluded that the fire started at low level around the front or side of the armchair which Mr Shepherd was sat in.

He also found cigarette ends under the chair.

The court heard that Mr Shepherd, who was frail and had mobility difficulties and was being treated for respiratory illness, had fastened a kitchen roll and toilet tissue to the armchair to use when needed.

Mr Firth said he believed Mr Shepherd had dropped a lit cigarette which had either ignited these items or his jogging bottoms first.

He told the court that it was Mr Shepherd’s clothing that caused the fire to spread.

A West Yorkshire Police detective also gave evidence that there weren’t any suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire.

Philip Holden, assistant coroner for West Yorkshire Eastern District, was told that Mr Shepherd’s daughter had recently been to see her father and had seen him drop a cigarette and struggle to retrieve it, and she had warned him about the dangers.

However, Mr Shepherd’s family largely lived in southern England and his wife had had to go into a care home.

A post-mortem examination showed he had suffered burns to his 90 per cent of his body.

The coroner concluded Mr Shepherd had died from smoke inhalation, circulatory shock and thermal injuries due to the fire, and that ischaemic heart disease had been a contributory factor.

He said: “It was likely that he was sat in the armchair in the living room and dropped a lit cigarette that caused combustible items present to ignite including a kitchen towel and clothing.”

He recorded a verdict that Mr Shepherd’s death was accidental and thanked the fire service and police for their thorough investigations.