Ex-school caretaker’s remains found in armchair set on fire by his own lighter
A retired school caretaker was found dead in his armchair after accidentally setting it on fire with a cigarette lighter, an inquest heard.
Thomas Capper is thought to have reclined in his living room chair, accidentally leaning on the lighter which had fallen between the seat and cushion.
The 83-year-old – who had mobility problems and poor eyesight – just had time to use his ‘lifeline’ device to alert the emergency services, Stoke-on-Trent Live reports.
He is reported to have said he was "on fire".
Firefighters arrived at his home in Shelton, Staffordshire, to put out the blaze and made the grim discovery.
Mr Capper’s remains were in the armchair, where he had spent much of his daily life.
Close friend Glenys Paterson told the inquest she had become concerned for his welfare as he often had overflowing ashtrays by his side.
He had also been known to put cigarette butts on top of lighters, causing the plastic to melt.
“I was forever reaching lighters out from the side of his chair,” she added. She had even got him two fire blankets to protect him.
Mr Capper – who had worked at St Mark’s CE Primary, in Shelton, before retiring at age 65 – had seen his health decline in his later years.
The widower had a walker as he had stiff legs and arthritis .
But he would still struggle to walk and he'd get ‘lost’ in his home as he couldn’t see properly.
Carers would visit several times a day.
Fire investigation officer Jason Dean said the fire was contained in the lounge, although some of the other rooms also suffered smoke damage.
“One lighter was found in the remains of the armchair that he was sat in,” added Mr Dean.
Although the chair was covered in fire retardant material, it was not fully fireproof.
One of the fire blankets was found draped over the right-hand arm, which had given the material some extra protection.
A search revealed several smoke detectors in the house, but there was a question mark over whether an alarm had been fitted in the room where Mr Capper had been sitting.
A post-mortem examination confirmed he died from burns.
He is likely to have succumbed to the fire ‘rapidly’ before he had inhaled much smoke.
Concluding it was an accidental death, North Staffordshire coroner Andrew Barkley said: “This was a very fast evolving set of circumstances.
“Even if there had been a smoke alarm in the room, given his problems, he probably wouldn’t have been able to extricate himself from danger.”
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