Retired university lecturer died from natural causes, despite blaze at his Primrose Hill home

A RETIRED university lecturer suffered a coronary and collapsed onto a fan heater, triggering a fire in his Primrose Hill home, a coroner’s court has heard.

Firefighters discovered Peter Richards, 70, lying over a plugged-in fan heater, as a small fire burned around him in his Princess Road home.

His neighbour had called the emergency services after seeing smoke billowing out of his second floor flat, on July 14.

At an inquest into his death, St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard on Thursday that Mr Richards died before the fire started.

Dr Andrew Reid, the coroner, said that the low levels of soot and carbon monoxide in Mr Richards’s body suggested that he was not breathing when the fire broke out.

Christopher Williams, a fire investigator with the London Fire Brigade, told the courtroom that he had found Mr Richards’s body lying across the fan heater when he attended the scene.

He said: “Mr Richards was lying on top of the heater.

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“I can exclude deliberate ignition by another person unless they had keys to the flat because the door was locked.

“There was no electrical fan heater damage. If something fell on it, it was likely to switch on.

“The source of the heat ignited other materials around it, including Mr Richards’s clothing.”

A detective who attended the scene described how it was virtually impossible not to stand on debris in Mr Richards’s sitting room.

He added: “There was nothing that we saw that would suggest this was anything other than a tragic accident.”

Earlier in the hearing, Mr Richards’s GP, Dr Justin Saks, said that he had seen him as a patient a few times a year and he suffered from alcohol dependency.

Dr Saks said that he had repeatedly referred Mr Richards to mental health care (team) for older people, but he had not wanted to engage with it.

Although Mr Richards was admitted to the accident and emergency departments of the Royal Free and University College Hospital on several occasions, he would often discharge himself.

The court heard that a care co-ordinator had been expecting to see him on July 15, the day after his death.

In ruling that Mr Richards died from natural causes, Dr Reid said that no lack of medical care contributed to, or caused his death.

He added: “He had coronary heart disease and a problem with alcohol dependency.

“I am satisfied that Mr Richards collapsed and died from a coronary. In collapsing, he fell on a heater between an arm chair and the TV.

“As he lay across the fan heater materials around it ignited.

“On the evidence, I am satisfied that there was no defect in the electrics that caused the fire.

“The source of the ignition appears to be the collective materials next to the heater.

“Mr Richards died, sadly, from natural causes before the fire.”

The court heard that no next of kin could be traced.