Tufnell Park flat fire victim may have started blaze that claimed his life

An elderly fire victim may have deliberately started the blaze that claimed his life, an inquest heard this week.

Retired carpenter Leonard Clarke, 75, is thought to have started the fire in his Tufnell Park flat at about 9.30pm on May 17 this year. He also swallowed a lethal dose of paracetamol that evening, St Pancras Coroner’s Court was told on Tuesday.

Fire investigator Michael Gavin said there appeared to be separate fires in two rooms of the third-floor flat in Curran House, on the Brecknock Road Estate, off Brecknock Road.

He said: “We did not find a cause for either fire. We checked the wall sockets, the wiring, we found no evidence he smoked, we considered candles.

“We tried to consider all the possibilities and we were left with the possibility it was a deliberate act by Mr Clarke. We found matches where he had been sitting and a used match.”

The inquest heard Mr Clarke looked after his wife Catherine Clarke, 67, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and told his step-daughter that he “couldn’t take it any more” two days before his death.

Mrs Clarke’s daughter Sylaryn Lindsey said: “He sounded unhappy and said he couldn’t take it any more. Mum kept saying he’s not her husband, he’s a stranger to her. I said we both know it’s mum’s illness. He was not happy, but he was coping.”

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Mr Clarke was home alone when the fire took hold and police said there was no evidence of third party involvement or suspicious activity. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death was given as smoke inhalation, contributed to by the toxic effects of paracetamol. Mr Clarke had taken “eight or nine times the normal treatment level”, coroner Dr William Dolman said.

Recording a narrative verdict, Dr Dolman said: “On the balance of probabilities, these were two deliberate acts. It seems that Mr Clarke may have started the fire himself for some reason.

“We have no evidence that he wanted to end his own life or harm himself. This is not a court of guesswork and I cannot consider suicide as a verdict.

“Leonard Clarke died as a result of smoke inhalation and paracetamol toxicity.

‘‘No third party was involved and there was no evidence of suicide. That’s as far as I can go.”

Paying tribute, Mrs Clarke’s grandson Kelvin Lindsey, 30, said: “He was a good, caring man who had a dry sense of humour. You had to keep up with him and his sense of humour.

“He looked after nan and they had been together for a long time. He was very good with kids. I’ve got lots of cousins and they all loved him. He was just a good-hearted person really.”