Mystery remains over cause of fatal bungalow fire which killed 86-year-old, inquest hears
PUBLISHED: 17:39 22 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:39 22 July 2020
The cause of a bungalow fire which claimed the life of a man in his 80s remains unclear, an inquest has heard.
John Allen, 86, died after a night-time fire at his home in Fuschia Lane, Ipswich in March 2016.
At an inquest which opened on Tuesday, Mr Allen’s husband Martin Hallowes - who was living with him at the time and acted as Mr Allen’s carer - revealed how he woke in the early hours of the morning to discover a “pungent odour”, before returning to his room to see flames running across the floor.
He tried to put out the flame but was unable to do so.
In the days after the fire, then Suffolk Fire and Rescue incident commander Jon Illingworth visited the scene to try and determine how the blaze started.
However, giving evidence at the second day of the inquest on Wednesday, he said it was difficult to establish the exact cause.
A smouldering fire, possibly caused by an electrical item, was not ruled out as a potential cause.
The inquest heard that the only item still plugged in at the time was said to be a clock radio, which was located close to Mr Hallowes’ bed.
An electric blanket was discounted, as it was not thought to be plugged in at the time.
However, the possibility of the fire being caused deliberately could not be ruled out either.
Mr Illingworth told the inquest that there was CCTV evidence which showed an unknown person in the vicinity of the neighbourhood immediately before and after the fire.
That person was never identified.
The court had heard previously that the window to Mr Hallowes’ bedroom had been slightly open at the time of the fire.
Mr Illingworth said he could not rule out that a cause had come through the window, although he said that no accelerant had been found following a visit by a specialist dog unit to the site.
Fellow fire investigator Malcolm Jenkins, who was requested to attend the scene by Suffolk police, also said there were too many variables to precisely pinpoint a cause for the fire.
However, in his view the most likely cause involved an electrical fault in the clock radio, as it was the only plugged-in item in the room.
Robert Milne, an independent fire investigator who was employed by Mr Allen’s nephew, David Greaves, said he had considered two different ways of the fire starting - one from a naked flame and the other from a smouldering item.
He said, that given the timings and witness evidence, the cause of fire would lend itself to the naked flame hypothesis on the balance of probability.
Despite this, Mr Milne said he could not rule out other causes because the exact origin of the fire remained unknown.
While Mr Hallowes survived the blaze, Mr Allen died at Ipswich Hospital having suffered a cardiac arrest and 65% burns to his body.
Mr Allen had dementia and was largely deaf and immobile, the inquest heard.
Carers visited his home three times a day to look after him in addition to the care provided by Mr Hallowes.
The inquest is expected to continue on Thursday.
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