Hoarders die as rescuers are unable to get through their clutter
Nearly every available space in pair's UK 'hovel' filled with junk, inquest hears
Two hoarders died in a blaze because the clutter in their home forced firefighters to break through a window to reach them and made escaping “almost impossible”, an inquest has heard.
Andrew McInnes, 60, and William Cooper, 62, died of smoke inhalation when the house went up in flames as a fire spread from a toaster in the kitchen at 1.15am on June 26 2017.
An inquest heard how nearly every available space was filled with junk at their three-bedroom terraced house in Lowestoft, UK. The back door was also blocked with a freezer and the front door was deadlocked, meaning firefighters had to break windows to gain access before battling their way through clutter to reach the pair.
Assistant coroner Dr Dan Sharpstone said the house had not been cleaned for years and “could only be described as a hovel and a health hazard”.
An investigation by the Suffolk Fire Service found the toaster that started the blaze had been plugged through two overloaded multiplugs like “a daisy chain”. Other electrical sockets in the house were also overloaded and there were no smoke alarms.
Sharpstone said: “Electrical items were covered in grease and slime was lodged into sockets.”
The coroner said the pair had “a disregard for electrical safety” and the clutter meant that escaping from the fire would have been “almost impossible”.
The inquest also heard how McInnes and Cooper had been convicted in March 2012 of causing unnecessary suffering to four dogs by keeping them in a cramped and dirty environment.
McInnes, who was wheelchair-bound, and his friend Cooper had refused all offers of help from the authorities and relatives.
The inquest at the Suffolk Coroner’s Court in Ipswich heard how Cooper was a carer to McInnes even though he was not fit to be.
Social services and other agencies tried to intervene, but could not act because McInnes was deemed capable of making his own decisions.
The inquest heard that neighbour Brenda Durrant had complained to authorities about the state of the house and the flies outside. She said a fire was “inevitable” and Neil Ward, a cousin of McInnes, told the inquest that his relative was “very stubborn and independent” and “kept himself to himself”.
He said that he had tried to visit, but had not been allowed into the house. Ward said his cousin's life had fallen apart after his parents died in quick succession many years ago.
“He was seen as just on the limit but able to make responsible decisions himself.”
A neighbour said at the time of the blaze: “Andrew grew up in the house with his parents until they died a week apart about 25 years ago. The place was fine while his parents were alive, but he just went to pieces within a year of them dying.
“Billy moved in as his carer a few years ago. They just had so much stuff piled in every room. It was all down the hallway and up the stairs. They had passageways to walk down. I think it was a fire waiting to happen. I told them some time ago that if there was a fire, nobody would get out.
“I would never go in there, but you could see all the stuff when they opened and closed their front door.
“I think Andrew was able to walk around the house. He would go out to the seafront in his wheelchair every morning with Billy pushing him.”
The neighbour added: “My wife went to the toilet in the night and smelled smoke. Then I saw the reflection of flames and I went downstairs to dial 999.”
Sharpstone said involvement by social services had been hampered since McInnes was of “borderline capacity”.He recorded a narrative conclusion at the hearing on Monday, saying: “It is also clear there was evidence of self neglect and hoarding.
“My conclusion is that they died as a consequence of smoke inhalation with a background of severe self-neglect and hoarding.”
– © The Daily Telegraph