Blind Worthing smoker died from burns

A blind pensioner whose ‘only pleasure’ was smoking a pipe, died from burns after his clothes caught fire.

Fire crews treated a man for smoke inhalation
Fire crews treated a man for smoke inhalation

An inquest into the death of John Hills, 83, of St Michael’s Nursing Home, Worthing, was held at Centenary House on June 23.

Mr Hills, who had lived at the home for 12 years, was taken to Worthing Hospital on February 6, after a ‘smouldering’ pipe on his lap set his clothes on fire.

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Angela Rowland, nursing home manager, said she assumed Mr Hills was wearing his flame retardant apron.

She said: “The apron was not in the conservatory. I could see he was wearing something dark blue. I didn’t double check.”

Staff at the home had dressed Mr Hills in his favourite shirt, scarf and hat, wrapped blankets around him and lit his pipe. A care plan said he should be monitored every 30 minutes.

Mr Hill was prescribed Centraben, a cream called to treat his dry skin, which was reapplied by staff during the day.

Richard Bradley, Fire Investigation Officer for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, said: “I do believe the paraffin-based cream has had an effect on the fire’s development.”

He said the paraffin residues on Mr Hill’s favourite clothes would have had a ‘cumulative effect if the clothes weren’t being washed’, while the shirt he was wearing would have started the fire.

“The assumption by Angela was a mistake. We all make mistakes every day,” added Mr Bradley.

A post mortem confirmed Mr Hills, who also suffered from lung and heart disease, died from burns which covered 40 per cent of his body.

Recording a conclusion of accidental death, deputy coroner Christopher Wilkinson said: “It does appear that an assumption was made that he was wearing his fire retardant clothing at the time.”

He said it was ‘more likely than not’ Mr Hills didn’t ‘take on board’ the fire risk of smoking.

Mr Wilkinson described the event as a ‘tragic accident’ and said he would be writing a Prevention of Future Deaths report about the paraffin content of the Centraben cream.

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