Letchworth flat fire death may have been caused by petrol can

A FLAT fire which led to the death of a man broke out after a petrol can was left in the property, an inquest heard today (Tuesday).

Hertfordshire coroner Edward Thomas recorded a verdict of accidental death after Barry Collings died in his flat in Bittern Way, Letchworth GC, on April 4.

Hatfield Coroner’s Court heard how the 53-year-old, who worked at Job Centre Plus in Letchworth GC as a claims advisor, was viewed on CCTV footage taking a can of unleaded petrol into his first floor flat.

The vapour is believed to have leaked from the can and been ignited, potentially by a fridge-freezer turning on and off.

The police were notified of the presence of a petrol can after work colleague Barbara Morris told them she had seen Mr Collings filling up a green plastic petrol container at Sainsbury’s in Letchworth GC the previous night.

Mr Edwards, who described Glasgow-born Mr Collings as a “very highly thought of claims advisor” and a motorcycle enthusiast, said: “He had no medical conditions that caused or contributed to his death.

“He had extremely high smoke inhalation and I think almost certainly he wouldn’t have known what was going on.

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“The cause of death is going to go on the certificate as extensive burns, and they were very extensive burns.

“It seems petrol vapour somehow got into the room and ignited.

“This was an accident, it was unintended and unwanted. He was happy. He wanted a bit of petrol in case he ran out. That’s the sort of thing you do.”

Investigating officer Greg Rataj, of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, gave evidence at the inquest and explained the impact ignited petrol would have had.

“It would have set everything alight and would be overwhelming,” he said.

“There was a fridge-freezer in the kitchen which would have been close to where the seat of the fire may have been. Motors to these are low down at the back, so it would be perfectly placed to ignite any flammable vapour.”

Speaking after the verdict, Mr Collings’ brother Stuart, who attended the inquest with his father Maurice and sister Pamela Jenkins, said: “Everyone loved him and he’s going to be greatly missed.

“He had lots of people come into the job centre who had heard and they were in total shock. They had to shut the job centre.

“It’s just a tragic accident and unfortunately we will never know exactly what happened.”