Inquest: Mablethorpe man died after gas leak from five-year-old fridge

A coroner is to raise his concern about white goods after a gas leak from a five-year-old fridge caused a fatal house fire in Mablethorpe.

The scene of the house fire in February last year. Photo: Trevor Bradford.

Terence Penney, 73, died last year after a vapour cloud ignited ferociously as he switched on an electric coffee machine.

An inquest into his death held at Boston Coroner’s Court on Thursday (January 17) heard that he was engulfed in flames in the kitchen of his home in The Strand. He suffered burns to 48 per cent of his body.

The undercounter fridge – a LEC R5010W – had been bought by Mr Penney from a local retailer in February 2013.

Coroners have a public duty to report circumstances where there is a continued risk of future deaths.

Lincolnshire assistant coroner Paul Smith said: “I am concerned that the tragedy arose as a result seemingly of a gas leak from an appliance which was barely five years old. I am aware that the manufacturers of this fridge have been involved in the investigation.

“There are many recorded incidents of house fires starting within white goods. It seems to me for a tragedy of this magnitude to derive from a fridge which was barely five years old is a matter which requires further investigation.”

Mr Smith said he would be making a report to the appropriate authorities about considering safeguards which would prevent a repetition of this tragedy.

The inquest heard that the highly flammable refrigerant gas isobutane was found to be leaking from three points of the fridge.

The odourless and colourless gas which is heavier than air would have been stirred up as Mr Penney walked through his semi-detached bungalow, creating an ‘explosive atmosphere’.

Neighbour Lawrence O’Brien heard a ‘large thump’ at just after 8.30am on February 21 last year, which he thought sounded like something on the roof. He went outside to discover the adjoining property on fire and helped Mr Penney out of the kitchen.

The retired shopowner, who had burns and was covered in soot, was saying: “It’s the cooker! It’s the cooker!”

Mr O’Brien went into the property to rescue Mr Penney’s dog.

A statement from PC Carl Drewery said the property was well alight on his arrival and the roof had fallen in.

He said: “(Mr Penney) was stood up talking to me. I asked him what had happened. He replied that he had gone into the kitchen to make a hot drink and there had been an explosion behind him. He stated that he thought the cooker had blown up.”

Widower Mr Penney died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, on March 17, having previously had treatment at two hospitals in Nottingham.

Mr Smith said: “The analysis conducted by the fire investigation officer suggests there would have been sufficient gas which had either leaked, or was leaking, from the fridge in order to create an explosive mixture.

“It appears most likely that in the view of the fire investigation officer that it was the inadvertent spark which arose from switching on the coffee machine which ignited the vapour cloud which engulfed Mr Penney.”

He said it was a ‘terrible accident’ and gave a conclusion of accidental death.