A FORMER member of the Royal Navy died from carbon monoxide poisoning along with his pet dog after he thought he was lighting his real coal fire which had just been replaced by a ‘fake coal’ electric fire in his living room.
But tragically, an Inquest heard last Wednesday, Patrick Lavery (71), mistakenly put coal and firelighters onto a ‘focal point’ electric fire which had not had its fake coals installed and the chimney flue had been blocked up which allowed fumes to build up.
The fake coal fire had only been put in as part of work being carried out by the Housing Executive to install new heating systems in a housing estate in Dunloy, an inquest in Ballymena was told.
The work was carried out the day before Mr Lavery’s body and his his pet Jack Russell dog ‘Tiny’ were found after police had to force their way into the house after concern was raised.
Mr Lavery, served in the Royal Navy and formerly worked in Ballymena’s Michelin factory and was a brother of former Belfast Deputy-Lord Mayor Danny Lavery.
Patrick Lavery, died on April 23 last year and Coroner, Suzanne Anderson, said he had a history of alcoholism and mild cognitive impairment and lived alone in a Housing Executive bungalow.
The previous day, she said, the Housing Executive replaced the existing coal fire at Mr Lavery’s house with an electric fire and the flue was sealed.
Whilst the work was being carried out, she added, Mr Lavery spent the day at his sister Ann Lavery’s house nearby before going home at 7pm which was the last time anyone saw him alive.
Miss Anderson said the next morning a care worker called to the house and after being unable to gain entry the police were called and Mr Lavery was found dead at 11am.
The coroner found that Mr Lavery had “used coal and firelighters to light a surround in a coal effect electric fire” and death was by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Constable Alan McGowan earlier told the inquest when he forced his way into the house he found Mr Lavery lying dead on a bed in the soot-covered living room and a smoke alarm in the nearby hall was covered with a dust cover.
The police officer said Mr Lavery’s sister Ann told him Mr Lavery had been becoming confused and although he had lived in Dunloy for a decade thought he still lived in Belfast and she believed it was possibly the onset of dementia.
In a statement, Ann Lavery said she was worried about her brother and had tried to get health professionals to get him into a care home for his own safety.
The inquest heard Mr Lavery’s GP practice said he had a chronic alcohol problem and had some cognitive impairment and was receiving prescription medicine including Temazapam but although he had attended a psychiatric clinic in 2009 he was discharged.
Danny Lavery believed his brother, whom he said often showed the affects of having taken drink, was suffering from the early stages of dementia and was often confused.
Mr Lavery, a Sinn Fein councillor, thanked the PSNI, Fire Service and medical professionals for their help and kindness.
Community Care Support Worker Carol Wallace explained she went to the scene after being told by another care worker entry could not be gained to Mr Lavery’s home, and they thought it strange that Mr Lavery’s “wee dog” was not barking as it normally did when anyone went to the house.
Lawrence Knox, from the Health and Safety Executive, said a week before the work was carried out at Mr Lavery’s house a supervisor had called with Mr Lavery in the presence of Ann Lavery suggesting an agreed date for the work and Mr Lavery appeared to be intoxicated.
Mr Knox said when the work did take place and was yet to be completed, blow heaters had been left at the house to keep Mr Lavery warm that night.
The inquest heard the living door was closed and no windows were open and as the chimney flue was blocked by plasterboard there was nowhere for the fumes to escape from the fire.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Peter Ingram in a statement said death was from smoke inhalation and Mr Lavery’s blood contained low levels of alcohol.
Coroner Miss Anderson expressed her sympathy to Mr Lavery’s family and thanked Danny Lavery for his kind words towards the emergency services and health professionals.
After the Inquest, Ann Lavery told the Ballymoney Times her brother was a “great character”.
“He was real good craic and had some great stories especially from his time in the navy. He would have been round in my house for something to eat and I really miss him.”