Drinker died from horrific burns after fall trapped him against electric fire

The coroner’s court at Winchester

AN alcoholic died from extensive burn injuries after falling out of a chair at his Pennington home and becoming “wedged” against a heater, an inquest heard.


Peter Washbourn, a retired company director, was probably knocked out by the fall, Senior Coroner Grahame Short said, and was found with the chair on top of him.

Winchester Coroner’s Court heard Mr Washbourn lived an unhealthy lifestyle – at one time consuming one to two bottles of white rum a day.

He was a smoker, his diet largely consisted of Chinese takeaways and he sat on a chair in his kitchen most days, moving little and watching sport – mostly golf – on television with a small convector heater close by to keep him warm.

Mr Washbourn had a host of medical problems, such as hypertension, liver and heart disease and arthritis. He also had wounds on his legs, which carers dressed daily at his Harford Close home.

One of them, Vincent Turner, saw Mr Washbourn on the evening of 14th April and said he was in good spirits before he left at 7pm. When he returned the following morning for another appointment and let himself in through the back door, he found the 69-year-old dead.

“I was completely shocked to see the chair he was usually sat in leaning against the chest of drawers just in front of him,” his statement to the inquest said.

“He was lying between the chair and had a heater in front of the chair, and his face was wedged in between the two.”

Mr Turner added: “He was face down and with the chair on top of him, his face lying against the electric heater.”

Paramedics arrived just after 9am but nothing could be done.

The coroner noted Mr Turner’s evidence that Mr Washbourn had suffered numerous falls at his home, and was known to be unsteady on his feet and to have problems balancing.

That was confirmed by Mr Washbourn’s ex-wife Stella. She told the inquest they had parted years ago – partly because of his drinking and tendency to be “abusive” when under the influence – but she still visited him daily to help.

She detailed his lifestyle and said at one stage she diluted his alcohol, which he never noticed because “his taste buds had gone”.

He could not drive and hardly went out, she said. He was “quite wobbly” on his feet, and because he had a catheter, would often sit and even sleep in his kitchen chair.

A report to the meeting by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust’s integrated community leader, Debra Harris, said the service assessed and monitored Mr Washbourn over the years because of his drinking, mental health issues, reduced mobility and falls.

In 2014 he was “drinking one to two bottles of rum a day”, she said, and taking anti-depressants. But despite warnings about excessive drinking, he “did not want to give up” alcohol.

Dr Vipal Foria’s post mortem examination found evidence of bruising and burns on the upper half of Mr Washbourn’s body, but they were not absolutely clear because of decomposition.

There was no evidence of an acute cardiac or cerebral brain event, and while there was fatty change in the liver usual of heavy drinkers, cirrhosis was not present. He found therapeutic levels of prescription drugs and his blood alcohol level was 18 milligrams – well below the 80 drink-drive limit.

The final cause of death, Dr Foria said, was “extensive burn injuries”, but because of those it was “difficult” to determine what caused Mr Washbourn to fall.

PC Lawrence McKenna said police investigated but were satisfied there were no suspicious circumstances.

Summing up, Mr Short said Mr Washbourn suffered a “number of problems” that were “related to his previous excessive use of alcohol”. Sometime between 7pm on 14th April and 9am the following day, Mr Washbourn had ended up on the floor, he said.

“The evidence does not show precisely the reason for Peter falling in this case,” Mr Short continued. “The pathologist was not able to find any cardiac or similar event which would have caused him to have a seizure, and therefore I think it’s reasonable to think he was in the process of getting out of the chair and for some reason it went forward and tipped him on the floor.

“The unfortunate part was he then came into contact with the convector heater which was before him.”

Mr Short stressed the evidence showed Mr Washbourn was not under the influence of alcohol at the time.

He went on: “Unfortunately his situation was that he was therefore unable to move – he may have been unconscious by that stage – he could not call for help and therefore suffered burns to his face and chest and left arm which was the primary reason for his death.

“It was a very sad way for him to meet his end.”