Suspected copper thief was electrocuted, inquest hears

PUBLISHED: 08:43 31 August 2008 | UPDATED: 16:32 05 May 2010

A GARDENER, thought to be stealing valuable copper from a pylon, died when he was electrocuted by a cable carrying 33,000 volts of electricity, an inquest heard. Cornelius Brinkley, 26, died in a field off Wilbury Hills Road between Letchworth GC and Hitc

A GARDENER, thought to be stealing valuable copper from a pylon, died when he was electrocuted by a cable carrying 33,000 volts of electricity, an inquest heard.

Cornelius Brinkley, 26, died in a field off Wilbury Hills Road between Letchworth GC and Hitchin at about 6pm on January 12 this year.

Coroner Edward Thomas and about a dozen loved ones heard how Mr Brinkley, known as Neil, was found next to an electricity pylon, which had a 30ft ladder resting against it and cutting equipment nearby.

There was also a carrier bag containing two beers at the base of the pylon. Toxicology reports showed he had 38mg of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in his system, with the legal driving limit being 80mg.

Good friend Lee Davis, who described Mr Brinkley as "a happy person" who "liked his cars", said he saw him get electrocuted.

He explained that he went to his mother's house on Monklands in Letchworth GC and spotted Mr Brinkley's car. When he didn't find him at his mother's house, Mr Davis said he made his way to the field. "We usually have a couple of cans of beer up there," he said.

"I was about 20 feet away and he was halfway up the ladder and I saw him get electrocuted. I saw sparks and flashes. He fell to the ground, and as he fell to the ground I jumped on top of him as he was on fire."

Mr Davis attempted to resuscitate Mr Brinkley before running back to his mother's house to call an ambulance.

Paramedics pronounced Mr Brinkley, who lived in Stansted, dead at the scene. He had an entry wound on his right hand, with exit points on both legs.

The inquest heard how the electricity would have passed across his heart, causing death by a ventricular fibrillation due to electrocution. Thirty-six per cent of his body's surface area was affected.

John Steed, a chartered electrical engineer who inspected the site, said it was possible Mr Brinkley was attempting to steal conductors which are made from copper. He added: "Metal prices have shot up in the last few years and there's been an awful lot of theft. It's incredibly dangerous."

Mr Thomas recorded death by misadventure. Summing up, he said: "He couldn't have been the only person there at some stage. There's no way he could have carried the ladder there [on his own].

"Clearly there was an intention to remove something from that pylon and that was an inherently dangerous act.

"Taking metal in these circumstances, you lay yourself open to dying.

"If anybody is thinking of taking some metal in this way, they lay themselves open to their own death and also the inconvenience and possible danger to members of the public, so I just hope this is never repeated.

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