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House blaze which killed two men was ‘almost impossible’ to escape, inquest hears

Andrew McInnes (left) and William Cooper (right) were killed in the fire in Stanley Street, Lowestoft. Picture: Archant Library.

Andrew McInnes (left) and William Cooper (right) were killed in the fire in Stanley Street, Lowestoft. Picture: Archant Library.

Archant

A fire in Lowestoft which claimed the lives of two men - described in an inquest as ‘hoarders’ - was started by a ‘daisy-chained’ toaster in the kitchen.

The scene of the house fire in Stanley Street, Lowestoft  Picture: NICK BUTCHERThe scene of the house fire in Stanley Street, Lowestoft Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Andrew McInnes, 60, and his carer William Cooper, 62, died when a fire broke out at their home in Stanley Street at around 1.15am on June 26 last year.

An inquest today heard the pair lived in a ‘hovel’, with the house described at one point as a ‘health hazard’.

A fire investigation revealed the blaze had started in a toaster in the kitchen which had been plugged through two separate overloaded multi-plugs.

Dr Sharpstone said: “Electrical items were covered in grease and slime was lodged into sockets.”

A freezer was blocking the rear exit of the property while the front door was deadlocked, meaning fire crews had to smash windows to gain entry to the house.

Dr Sharpstone said escaping the fire would have been ‘almost impossible’. There were no fire alarms in the house and the pair were said to have had a ‘disregard for electrical safety’.

The inquest heard both men had learning difficulties, despite Mr Cooper being registered as Mr McInnes’ carer.

Social services, along with other agencies, had been made aware of their living conditions but could not act as Mr McInnes, who refused help, had been deemed as capable of making his own decisions.

The inquest heard the pair had been convicted in March 2012 for causing unnecessary suffering of four dogs by keeping them in a cramped and dirty environment.

Neil Ward, Mr McInnes’ cousin, told the inquest his relative was ‘very stubborn and independent’ and ‘kept himself to himself’.

“He was seen as just on the limit but able to make responsible decisions himself,” said Mr Ward.

He said he had called social services to ask if he could take on a deputy role for his cousin’s affairs, only to be told he had died that morning.

Dr Sharpstone said involvement by social services had been hampered as Mr McInnes was of ‘borderline capacity’.

He said: “It is also clear there was evidence of self neglect and hoarding.

“They died as a consequence of smoke inhalation due to a house fire in a background of severe social self neglect.”

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