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Inquest is told how man died after fire caused by lighter in shorts pocket

Michael Harrington had a history of mental health disorders, coroner is told

28 November, 2016 — By Alina Polianskaya

A MAN died in a fire after a lighter ignited in the pocket of his nylon shorts, an inquest heard.

Fifty-three-year-old Michael Harrington died on September 27 at his flat in Stirling Court, Tavistock Street.

Assistant coroner Russell Caller said it is likely the fabric burned so quickly that he was not able to react to the blaze.

Firefighter Darren Woodhams, who had been on the scene, told an inquest at Westminster Coroner’s Court it was “unusual” that Mr Harrington had not appeared to have tried to put out the fire.

He told the court: “In this particular case Mr Harrington hasn’t reacted in a way you would expect. Normally people try and put it out in some way… run around, or try and get water, but there is no evidence of that. It’s unusual… We can’t explain why he hasn’t reacted.”

The court heard from a toxicology report that a “high therapeutic amount” of anti-psychotic drug Olanzapine was in Mr Harrington’s blood, which he had been prescribed for his mental health conditions.

Two lighters, found in the pocket of Mr Harrington’s nylon shorts, were believed to be the source of the blaze.

Mr Woodhams told the court it appeared that “something” had happened to a lighter, but he could not definitively say whether it had been “tampered with”, “dropped” or if he had been “playing with it in his pocket”. He acknowledged that “an event had occurred which resulted in ignition”.

Police officer Ian Benjamin told the inquest that the lighter had not been “forensicated” as the death was “not suspicious”, so sending the lighter off for analysis would have been “of no evidential value”.

The coroner said the nylon shorts were an “important point” as it could explain “why there hadn’t been any activity”.

Mr Harrington grew up in Ireland, the inquest heard, where he had a “difficult relationship” with his parents and often felt “criticised”. He attended a school for pupils with learning difficulties where he had felt “bullied”.

The court heard he had a history of mental health disorders and had consulted health professionals about depression, personality disorders, anxiety and paranoia.

He had been prescribed Olanzapine, and was also assessed as having a low IQ.

Mental health nurse Valeria Valero, who works at Soho Square Surgery, reviewed Mr Harrington earlier this year.

In a statement read out by Mr Caller, she described his “dishevelled and unkempt” appearance and “chipped nail polish” – in the past he had “identified himself as a transvestite”, the inquest heard.

A post mortem showed it was likely that he had died “before significant smoke inhalation had taken place” and that he had “extensive third degree burns down to bone”.

Mr Caller said there was some evidence that “the lighter may have malfunctioned”, adding, on the balance of probabilities, that his death was an “accident” and that he died of “shock” and “third degree burns”.

 

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