Pensioner’s death in Welwyn Garden City fire accidental

PUBLISHED: 17:08 06 September 2011

Fire investigators at the scene in Marsden Road in May

Fire investigators at the scene in Marsden Road in May


A FRAIL pensioner’s addiction to smoking inadvertently caused his death in a fire at his WGC home, an inquest has heard.

Donald Whitehead, 79, died as result of his injuries sustained from a fire at his bungalow in Marsden Road on the evening of May 14 this year.

Mr Whitehead, who suffered from a number of health issues, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes, told paramedics the fire had started when he dropped a lighter while trying to light a cigarette.

The flames were ignited by a flow of oxygen from the oxygen mask Mr Whitehead used to help him breathe.

He received burns to his feet and legs, and died at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, on May 16.

At Hatfield Coroner’s Court today (Tuesday), coroner Edward Thomas said were it not for his health problems, Mr Whitehead would most likely have survived his injuries.

“He had a serious lung disease, and in an event like this he couldn’t cope,” he said.

Mr Whitehead was described as a “fiercely independent” man by community matron Mary Hopkins, who refused all forms of care packages and insisted on living on his own, despite his failing health.

“I think he was a very proud, independent gentleman,” she said. “He had a good sense of humour, he liked to talk about day to day things, he didn’t dwell on his illness. But I think he was very frustrated with the fact his disease had isolated him.”

Mr Whitehead’s sons Andrew and Phillip were at the inqest, and said it was their father’s smoking that had caused his lung disease.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Thomas said: “It was smoking that killed him really.

“If he hadn’t had the chronic pulmonary disease, he would have survived his injuries.

“The smoke that he must have inhaled would have effected him quite badly.

“He sounded like a nice man, who was his own master in a way.”

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