Alcoholic died after setting fire to home

Scene of the fatal house fire in Chapeltown
Scene of the fatal house fire in Chapeltown
Share this article
Have your say

An alcoholic who had expressed thoughts of self-harm died after setting fire to his home, a coroner has ruled.

James Shaw, aged 64, ‘descended into a cycle’ of drinking and became abusive to his wife leading up to the blaze, an inquest into his death was told at Sheffield’s Medicolegal Centre.

At one point Mr Shaw was drinking as much as 150 units of alcohol a week, including a 70cl bottle of whiskey a day, the court was told.

He died on January 5 the day after a fire which he started at his home in Glenwood Crescent, Chapeltown, left him with 53.5 per cent burns all over his body.

Catherine Toovey a fire investigator for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the blaze was started deliberately in Barry’s bedroom.

She said Barry discovered the fire when he went upstairs about 12.30am on January 4.

Barry, Mr Shaw’s other son Mark and Mr Shaw’s wife Marie all fled the house.

Ms Toovey said when fire crews entered the house they found Mr Shaw sitting on the edge of his bed in the next room and a large hole was melted into the mattress.

In a statement made to police, read out by assistant deputy coroner Louise Slater, Marie Shaw, who was married to her husband for over 32 years, said: “Over the last few years James has descended into a cycle of alcohol abuse and depressive behaviour.

“He progressed from 25cl bottles of whiskey to at least one large 70cl bottle per day.

“His day would be spent in the hunt to buy alcohol from local convenience stores.

“He would then drink alcohol in the living room or bedroom, then go to sleep, wake up and repeat the process.”

She said her husband had become abusive to her.

“If I didn’t do what he said immediately he would smash crockery and furniture.

“He sometimes grabbed me and put a knife to my throat. I think this happened twice.”

The court heard Mr Shaw previously told his family he would burn the house down.

On December 23, 2013, two weeks before he died, he was found trying to set fire to an object in the house and two days later police were called to the address after reports of a domestic disturbance.

No futher action was taken.

The court was told Mr Shaw had been trying to detox in the months leading up to his death, but regularly missed appointments because he was too drunk to attend and would ask his wife to call and cancel.

A pathologist said Mr Shaw died from multiple organ failure, burns and smoke inhalation.

Recording a narrative conclusion, Ms Slater said she could not be certain Mr Shaw had attempted to take his own life.

She said: “On the balance of probabilities it is likely Mr Shaw started the fire deliberately. However, his intentions remain unclear.”

Mr Shaw’s brother William Shaw, aged 67, said after the inquest he did not realise the extent of his brother’s drink problems.

His brother David Shaw, aged 61, added: “James didn’t broadcast himself about. He kept himself to himself. He was placid, a soft teddy bear.”