Pensioner died from carbon monoxide poison in boiler

The Old County Hall

The Old County Hall

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

A CORONER has warned of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning after an OAP was killed from years of ash and soot build-up in her boiler flue.

Elizabeth Watkins, 86, was found dead at her home in Severn Road, Chilton, by a neighbour on November 6.

An inquest on Thursday heard how the widowed housewife, who cleaned the coal boiler herself, had refused to pay for a service which would have cleared the ash deposits blocking the flue.

Her daughter, Margaret Robinson, who attended the inquest at Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court, said people needed to be more aware of the dangers of solid fuel boilers.

Mrs Robinson said: “I wish I had realised more about this boiler. I didn’t realise how dangerous it was.

“More needs to be done to make people aware. We think about the dangers of gas, but not about coal.”

Giving a ruling of accidental death by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, coroner Darren Salter seconded Mrs Robinson’s warning.

He said: “I think it is important for people to have boilers serviced regularly and for people to understand what is cleaning the boiler and what is servicing, which is clearly important and needs to be done by an accredited gas engineer.”

Gas safety engineer Howard Reed, who inspected Mrs Watkins’ boiler after her death, told the inquest there was up to nine years’ worth of ash deposits blocking the flue, stopping CO from escaping up the chimney, and eventually filling the house.

Mr Reed, an incident investigator for Gas Safety Consultancy, said: “The appliance had been looked at on several occasions, it is quite surprising that the flue ways hadn’t been identified (as a problem) and if it was identified, why wasn’t it acted upon? Mrs Watkins probably cleaned the fire bed and the chimney, but she missed the vitally important bit in the middle.”

Mrs Robinson told the inquest that her mother was an independent woman who cleaned the boiler herself, and had refused her daughter’s suggestion that she should change to a gas or oil boiler.

The boiler had last been seen by engineers from Steventon firm F Church in June 2012, who Mrs Watkins called after the boiler went out.

Service manager Peter Johnson told the Oxford Mail: “We tried to help her out but she liked to do everything herself, so all we could do was advise her. If it was gas we would shut it all off, we are legally allowed to do that.

“If you’re burning solid fuel it’s no different than putting a portable barbecue in a tent, but you’re allowed to do it.”

Russell Kramer, chief executive for Gas Safe Register, said: “CO is a silent killer as you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. The best way to keep you and your family safe is to ensure that you get all appliances – fire, cookers and boilers – safety checked at least once a year.”

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