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Anthony Billy 'died by his own hand' says Croydon coroner after inquest into woodland fire death

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A MAN who burned to death in a South Croydon wood "died by his own hand", a coroner has said. An inquest had heard that, in the days before his death in January 2011, Anthony Billy, 32, told care workers he owed money to a drug dealer. Mr Billy's family feared he may have been murdered but, following a four-day inquest, coroner Selena Lynch said a "thorough investigation" had led her to decide his death had not been "suspicious". In recording a narrative verdict, Mrs Lynch told Croydon Coroner's Court today (Friday) that Mr Billy had set fire to himself in Croham Hurst Woods, but she could not be certain why. It was because of this unanswered question, she added, that rumours had spread and "made a bad situation, and the family's suffering, worse". Mr Billy suffered from paranoid schizophrenia but was "stable" in the lead up to his death, said Mrs Lynch, and was receiving "good" care in Russell Hill Lodge supported accommodation in Purley. The coroner added: "He spent Christmas with his family. Some of them described him as extremely well." However, there were signs that "something was going on in the background", Mrs Lynch added. Mr Billy, a frequent cannabis smoker, had become less interested in activities the home organised, his "delusions" – including speaking of a "god of fire" – were becoming more frequent and he was regularly asking staff for money. He also told his key worker he owed cash to a drug-dealer. Mrs Lynch said: "Were these signs of a relapse? Was he desperately worried about debt or was there something else going on in his life which we don't know of?" At around 3pm on January 19, Mr Billy asked Ronald Chiwome, the manager of the care home, for £5. When the request was refused, he became "irritable", "angry" and "hit the door" as he "stormed out". Mrs Lynch told the court: "Mr Billy left his home and went to a petrol station on Brighton Road, Croydon. "He purchased a canister and filled it with almost three litres of diesel. He then walked to the woods at Croham Hurst, doused himself in [fuel] and applied a naked flame using a lighter or possibly a cigarette end." A passer-by called 999 and police, firefighters and ambulance crews were sent but Mr Billy was pronounced dead. The lighter and petrol canister were found at the scene. "Thanks to a thorough investigation we can be satisfied [Mr Billy] died at his own hands," said Mrs Lynch, who added that the remaining question was why. "All the evidence is that this was completely out of character for him," she said. "There was never any suggestion that he would harm himself. "Perhaps he had some insight into his condition. Sometimes paranoid schizophrenics have a period of insight and they feel very distressed about what the future holds for them. "It could be that he decided to take his life impulsively after being declined money. It can be a difficult existence not to have access to one's own money as an adult. "It could be that he had a drug debt or something else that made him feel like taking his own life." Mrs Lynch said she could not return a verdict of suicide unless she could be sure Mr Billy intended to take his own life. "I can't be sure," she said, "because I can't rule out other possibilities." She ruled out that Mr Billy had accidentally started the fire with a cigarette. As to whether he had been killed, she said: "I don't think it was a case of homicide. He wasn't murdered, he died of his own hand. "I'm not able to come to the conclusion that this was a case of suicide. Rather than an open verdict, I have chosen a narrative conclusion." Mrs Lynch said an open verdict might lead some to conclude there was something suspicious about Mr Billy's death. "I have found it wasn't suspicious," she said. As for the care Mr Billy received at Russell Hill Lodge, the coroner described it as "good" and said she could not determine any causative failure. Mrs Lynch said the care home's staff knew Mr Billy owed money for drugs but, as he was not willing to talk about it, it was "difficult for them to do anything to help him". Around a dozen members of Mr Billy's family were present in court, including his mother Sandra. Simmone Simpson, his sister, later said she was upset with the verdict but needed time to collect her thoughts before speaking publicly. One family member held up a picture of Mr Billy as the coroner described how sorry she was for their loss. "These circumstances are devastating for families," she said. "It is hard enough to lose a loved one, but to lose someone like this must be utterly intolerable and I know the inquest has only partially answered your concerns. "You are obviously a close and loving family. I am sure Anthony's death has caused an unending wound for all of you. Time is not always the great healer we may have hoped it would be. "But I hope, given time, you will remember Anthony in happier and healthier times; the Anthony I can see in the photo held up in court this morning; the warm and generous person his mother described to me. Mrs Lynch added: "There is nothing you could have said or done that could have prevented this from happening. "The finest memorial to him would be to enjoy your lives and your family." The Metropolitan Police were forced to reopen the probe into Mr Billy's death last year after his family raised concerns about failures in the original investigation with the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is expected to report the findings of that new investigation now that the inquest has finished. After Mr Billy's death a former school friend approached his mother and said her son had told him that "bad people" were "trying to get rid of him".

Anthony Billy 'died by his own hand' says Croydon coroner after inquest into woodland fire death


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