A FATHER and his two young children died in an “extraordinary” accident after a discarded snack packet became lodged in a chimney and caused carbon monoxide to flood into their home, a coroner has ruled.
Trevor Wallwork, aged 50, died at his home, Forgetmenot Cottage, in Gurteen, County Sligo, Ireland, on December 18, 2011, with his daughter Kimberley, aged 12, and nine-year-old son Harry.
The family moved to Ireland about six or seven years ago, after Mr Wallwork divorced his first wife Donna Farrimond, the children’s mother, who is disabled and still lives in Leigh, where Kimberley was born.
An inquest at Bolton Coroners Court heard how Mr Wallwork, Kimberley and Harry, as well as their dogs JJ and Lulu, died from carbon monoxide poisoning after the gas became trapped in the sitting room, where the family was watching TV.
Coroner Alan Walsh said the case was one of the most tragic he has encountered in 12 years sitting as a coroner, but that it was nothing more than an “extraordinary and catastrophic accident”.
The chief fire officer for Sligo, Paul Coyle, told the court through a statement that he concluded a “coincidental and incredible” set of circumstances were responsible for the deaths.
Their bodies were discovered by Mr Wallwork’s step-daughter Vikki Barnes at about 9.15pm after she had been unable to contact them throughout Sunday.
Her mother, Susan Wallwork, died in June 2012 from cancer, the condition she was in hospital receiving treatment for at the time.
The investigation by the Irish fire authorities found a carbon monoxide reading of six parts per million, after the room had been heavily ventilated for some time.
Very soon there was no carbon monoxide detectable which, combined with the 60 percent level found in the bloodstream of Mr Wallwork and his children, led him to estimate that roughly 5,000 parts per million would have been present when they died, an amount Mr Coyle described as “very dangerous”.
None of the bodies showed any sign of smoke inhalation, making carbon monoxide poisoning the only possible cause of death.
After ruling out the boiler and central heating as the sources of the carbon monoxide, Mr Coyle turned his attentions to the coal fire in the sitting room.
He discovered that it had been recently lit and that a multipack snack packet had become lodged in the chimney.
He surmised that it had been placed on the fire when it was cooling, which explained why it did not melt yet still had enough upthrust from the flames to travel up the chimney where it became stuck.
The court heard how Ms Barnes, who lived near to Mr Wallwork with her partner and three children, discovered the bodies after her mother told her the family had not visited her in hospital that day.
She could see the bodies of Kimberley and Harry on the sitting room floor, and Mr Wallwork’s on the settee.
Their two dogs were in the kitchen barking.
Ms Barnes added that she last spoke to Mr Wallwork at about 5pm on Saturday, and that he had seemed perfectly fine, disregarding his concern over his wife’s health.
Insp Colm Nevin, who led the police investigation, said police had arrived at the cottage at 10.45pm after reports that three bodies had been discovered.
Vomit was present around the mouths and clothing of all three bodies, who had already been certified as dead by a doctor.
The two dogs were still alive then but whining and clearly unwell.
In ruling accidental deaths, Mr Walsh stressed that no sign of violence or trauma had been found at the cottage.
Arthur Flather, Mr Wallwork’s brother-in-law and spokesman for the family, many of whom still live in the Bolton area, including his mother and stepfather, said: “Trevor was totally devoted to his children and his wife and was a great dad.
“He was a barrel of fun and a much-loved uncle, brother and son.
“The children were gorgeous - their teachers in England and Ireland only ever said how well brought up they were.
“They were both very keen footballers and gaelic footballers.
“One of the main reasons Trevor took the children to Ireland was that they loved the seaside.”
The family, who also thanked the people of Gurteen for their support during the trauma, is pressing for the use of carbon monoxide detectors in homes to become compulsory.
Mr Walsh, the area coroner for Manchester West, said: “I can picture the evening when the family were sitting there watching television.
“As a father and grandfather I can only imagine what you all must be going through.
“I feel even more sorry that Susan Wallwork, who has of course now died herself, was never able to hear this evidence and know exactly how her husband and stepchildren came about their deaths.”