Hoarding barrister choked to death on burning rubbish

Bermondsey

A leading criminal barrister choked to death after the junk he hoarded at his waterside apartment was set ablaze by a kitchen hob.

Ian Paton, 66, a prosecutor for 40 years and part time judge, died as flames engulfed his £1.2million third floor apartment in Luna House, Bermondsey Wall West near Tower Bridge.

Tragically his smoke alarm was not working, Southwark Coroner’s Court heard.

Mr Paton, a member of QEB Hollis Whiteman Chambers, was pulled from the fire by firefighters but pronounced dead a short while later at around 7.07pm on 20 December last year.

He was found lying just inside the bedroom after firefighters forced their way into the flat and carried him to the floor below in a vain attempt to revive the dying lawyer.

They were called shortly after 5.30pm after the block’s concierge smelled smoke after popping outside for a cigarette break.

Police officers called to the scene a short while later identified the lawyer after spotting his name on cards and letterheads in the apartment and consulting his chambers website photo following a Google search.

It took 21 firefighters almost two hours to eventually control the blaze.

A post-mortem examination ruled the barrister died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation with a secondary contributing factor of undiagnosed ischaemic heart disease.

Pathologist Dr Charlotte Randall also noted that Mr Paton’s blood alcohol was one-and-a-half times the drink-driving limit rendering him ‘mildly to moderately intoxicated’ at the time of his death.

An inquest heard a statement from his ex-wife, Elizabeth, who said she and the couple’s daughter were ‘utterly bereft’ as his passing.

‘Ian’s death is in itself a terrible tragedy but it is made even more unbearable by the fact that we were as a family were on the brink of a new future together,’ she said.

The inquest heard Mr Paton had decided to retire and was set to hand his notice in at the end of the month before working through to the Spring on cases that particularly interested him.

‘Since our divorce five years ago we had become reconciled and we had again become close,’ his ex-wife added.

‘He had once again decided to move to Wiltshire to be nearer to my daughter and me.

‘He was optimistic and very much looking forward to what we thought would be our golden years together.’

She described how Mr Paton was ‘notoriously untidy’ and described the state of his flat as being ‘not conducive to work’.

‘He was by far the most untidy person most people had ever met,’ she continued.

‘He was an incorrigible hoarder who found use for things most people would throw away as junk.’

Mrs Paton said the barrister ‘rarely, if ever’ drank alcohol in her company but added that events over the festive period would have seen him consuming alcohol with colleagues and other associates.

London Fire Brigade investigator Barry Kent told the inquest the fire started in the ‘cluttered’ combined kitchen and living area.

‘There were a lot of papers and books, food and tins, stuff like that,’ he said.

Mr Kent went on to describe that the ashes of paperwork were discovered on top of one of the electric-powered glass hobs which had been switched up to its highest heat setting.

‘Most of the work surfaces were full of stuff,’ he said.

‘You could just about make out underneath the shape of a hob.’

He continued: ‘The burn patterns indicate that the fire started in or around the hob and spread over the surface of the paper and the paper then dropped down into the file.

‘Then the fire spread to the chair and other stuff on the floor.’

Mr Kent went on to describe subsequent reconstructions with the apartment’s power restored showing how paper left on the hob could have sparked a blaze in as little as 15 to 20 seconds.

‘This type of incident is not a regular occurrence but it is not uncommon,’ he said.

‘We go to several of these during the course of a year.’

Mr Paton’s GP also provided a statement recounting the barrister’s pride at having quit smoking on willpower alone along with his ‘apocalyptic predictions about the Brexit vote.’

‘It is my fervent hope that the loss of his life together with the most recent incidents in a west London tower block will lead to a comprehensive review of fire safety standards,’ he said.

Assistant Coroner Shanta Deonarine said: ‘On 20 December 2016, Mr Paton was discovered dead at his home address following reports of a fire.

‘There is nothing in the evidence to support any contention that the fire was started deliberately by the occupier or any other third party.

‘The evidence that I have heard suggests was ignited from a halogen cooker hob which rapidly ignited combustible items.

‘There was a sound alarm that was working.

‘Mr Paton did not make his escape and tragically died from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.’

She added that Mr Paton’s death was ‘the consequence of an unlikely event’ and recorded her conclusion that it was the result of an accident.

Mr Paton died at his home in Luna House, Bermondsey Wall West, on 20 December 2016.

The coroner gave the cause of death as 1A carbon monoxide poisoning, 1B smoke inhalation from the house fire with a secondary contributing factor of ischaemic heart disease.

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