Man dies after Lewes flat fire

The scene after the blaze in Crisp Road, photo by Eddie Mitchell
The scene after the blaze in Crisp Road, photo by Eddie Mitchell

A man died after breathing in smoke from a blaze that engulfed his flat, an inquest heard today (Thursday).

Roy Obee, 56, had taken a ‘heavy amount’ of drugs when the fire broke out in his first-floor home in Crisp Road, Lewes, on December 23.

Eastbourne coroner’s court heard he died of smoke inhalation after a blaze most likely to have been started by a candle.

Mr Obee was a heroin addict who had sought help from Pavilions drug support in Brighton after taking half a pound of the substance a day, the inquest heard.

Born in London, he had no known relatives, but a neighbour who smashed in his door in an attempt to rescue him described him as a “good friend”.

In a statement, Ivan Healey recounted breaking the door in with a hammer to get inside.

He said: “I climbed the stairs but was held back by the thick smoke and had no choice but to go back outside.”

The last time Mr Healey had seen him was when Mr Obee had knocked on the door the day before to ask for a candle as his electricity had run out.

Later that night, the court heard, Lisa Watts – who lived on the floor below – said she heard ‘arguing’, ‘shouting’, ‘smashing’ and lots of ‘banging’ until about 2am, Then, at about 2.30am she heard the window above smashing and saw the flames.

Another neighbour described the noise as a crackling that sounded like a fox going through rubbish, said fire officer Steve Deakin.

Fire crews arrived on scene and recovered an unconscious Mr Obee from his flat, before giving him CPR.

He was then handed into the care of paramedics and taken to Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, where he was sadly reported to have died on January 2 this year, at four minutes past midnight.

Mr Obee’s flatmate David Skipton had been at a friend’s house that night. He described him as a ‘good, long-standing friend’.

A toxicology report found a mix of drugs in his system, including traces of cocaine, methadone – which he had been taking as a substitute for heroin – and cannabis.

Fire investigator Andy Mays said there was no evidence to suggest it was an electrical fire. He said the most likely cause was candles.

Senior coroner for East Sussex Alan Craze said: “We know about the level of intoxication he was under. He may have been careless.”

Mr Craze said, though heavy drugs were involved, Mr Obee had been alive to inhale enough smoke for it to be fatal. He concluded an accidental death due to smoke inhalation.