9:21am Thursday 4th July 2013
By Kate Banks
A CORONER presiding over the inquest of a man who burned himself to death in front of his partner at their Davyhulme home recorded an open verdict.
Deputy coroner, Joanne Kearsley, made the decision at Trafford Magistrates’ Court on June 28.
The court heard that Ronald Nigel Barlow arrived at the house on Skye Road, shortly before 11pm on August 28 last year carrying a petrol can and had got into his Jaguar that was parked in the rear garden.
He set it alight from the inside and was pronounced dead at the scene.
The court heard that Mr Barlow, who was known as Nigel, had a ‘severe’ alcohol problem and had physically attacked his long term partner, Dr Kathryn Huckbody two months prior to his death.
Dr Huckbody, whose background is in computing, said she met Mr Barlow in 2002 and he had always had a drinking problem, sometimes drinking up to 26 cans of lager a day.
She told the court that he attacked her on June 15 2012 and threatened to ‘burn the house down’, he was subsequently barred from contacting her as part of his bail conditions – but continued to do so.
CCTV and a police panic button was installed at her home and the fire service installed two smoke alarms and a blanking plate on her letter box, a preventative procedure against arson.
Describing the night Mr Barlow died, Dr Huckbody said she was awoken by her dog barking and saw Mr Barlow getting into his car on her CCTV, she said he seemed to be very drunk and she pressed her panic button and called the police as she was worried he would drink drive.
“Then this blinding flash just went right across the whole of the front of the car,” she said.
“It was like nothing on earth, no one could survive that. He was a complete sheet of flames.”
Detective Inspector Myra Ball, who was the senior investigating officer on the case, described CCTV footage of Mr Barlow leaving the Premier Inn at the Trafford Centre, where he was staying, buying a can of petrol and a lighter at a service station on Trafford Boulevard and then footage of him at Dr Huckbody’s house.
Det Insp Ball said the CCTV footage is ‘good quality’ and ‘graphic’ and clearly shows the deceased’s attempt to pour petrol through Dr Huckbody’s letter box through a dispensing tube he had attached to the petrol can.
She said that when he was unable to pour petrol into the house, the CCTV footage shows him getting into the car using a key fob, sitting inside for around a minute and then lighting a fire with a naked flame, believed to be a lighter.
Det Insp Ball said that Mr Barlow did not pour any petrol, but simply placed the can on the passenger seat while he sat on the driver’s side.
She added: “He then opens the door, which lets in more oxygen and the fire reignites.”
Reading out a toxicology report, Miss Kearsley said high levels of alcohol were found in Mr Barlow’s system.
Explaining her decision to record an open verdict, Miss Kearsley said: “The question for everybody really, is what was his intention that night?”
Miss Kearsley said the only person who could answer that question is Mr Barlow and the absence of solid evidence such as a note, means that no one can be sure for certain whether he intended to harm himself.
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