Banbridge farmer, 82, died after Aga cooker caught fire

Emergency services attending the scene of George Mathers' rural farmhouse near Banbridge in January
Emergency services attending the scene of George Mathers' rural farmhouse near Banbridge in January

An elderly cattle farmer was killed when his Aga cooker caught fire, a coroner’s court has heard.

Clothing or soft furnishings may have been placed on top of the oil-fired stove in George Mathers’ farmhouse kitchen in rural Co Down.

An inquest was also told how the 82-year-old widower, who lived alone at Ballynafern Road outside Banbridge, suffered from dementia but was due to go into a care home just weeks after the tragedy on January 3.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson said: “A post-mortem confirmed death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Forensic examination of the scene revealed the most likely source of the fire was the direct ignition of materials on the Aga cooker in the kitchen.”

Four of Mr Mathers’ sons were present for the hearing at the Laganside court complex.

The fire was well developed when it was discovered at about 7.30am by neighbour David Moffett and Mr Mathers’ son Andrew Mathers.

The court heard how they battled to gain entry to the property.

Unable to open the heat-swollen door, Andrew Mathers used a sledge hammer to smash a window in the converted downstairs drawing room where he had put his father to bed hours earlier. But he was beaten back by smoke and was showered in glass when another window upstairs blew out.

The damage was so extensive that firefighters were unable to enter the dwelling and it was two days before the scene was declared safe for body recovery officials to enter.

George Mathers’ lifeless and badly burned remains were found in the kitchen.

Identification was only possible from the unique code on his metal hip replacement.

Rod O’Hare, a station commander with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, said there had been a “single seat of fire”.

“The most likely ignition was soft furnishings or clothing on top of an Aga cooker,” he said.

Forensic scientist Julian Halligan also revealed that a fire door on the cooker was open.

Meanwhile, the coroner was told that caring responsibilities for the retired pensioner were split between two of his sons, Andrew and David Mathers, who worked on the family farm. Social services also visited twice daily.

Ten days before the fatal fire Andrew Mathers said he had found a singed cushion on top of the Aga.

A fire alarm had been installed but was not linked up to a relative’s telephone.

“In hindsight that should have been installed and wasn’t and I am probably to blame for that,” Mr Mathers said.

“At that point I did not think it was required but it was a moving situation and my father was continuing to deteriorate. We were working our way to the middle of January till we got a week’s respite.”

It was claimed George Mathers had been reluctant to leave his home and had detested occupational therapy sessions trialled at a residential facility in Banbridge a year earlier.

Andrew Mathers said: “We tried to get dad to go for an afternoon at that time and he absolutely hated it. Our mother had attended and had loved the social interaction but he said he ‘wasn’t your mother’.”

The coroner said the purpose of an inquest was not to apportion blame.

Expressing sympathy to the family, Ms Anderson described Mr Mathers’ death as “tragic and sadly very untimely”.