A KITCHEN porter died from smoke inhalation in a fire which began in his room in the blaze at Harrogate’s Majestic Hotel last May.
A jury at Harrogate coroner’s court, sitting at Conyngham Hall in Knaresborough, recorded a majority verdict of accidental death in the inquest into the death of James Nigel Butterfield, known as Nigel to his friends.
When the fire broke out on the fifth floor of the hotel in the early hours of the morning of May 5, 2010, other members of staff tried at first to rouse Mr Butterfield and then rescue him only to be beaten back by the thickening smoke.
Fire investigators found evidence that Mr Butterfield had been smoking rolled-up cigarettes in his room prior to the fire and postulated that, while unlikely, it was possible under the right circumstances a dropped cigarette of that kind could cause a smouldering fire, which then met by the correct conditions could have developed into the type of blaze that ravaged the top floor of the hotel that morning.
Ian Young, a collegue, reported Nigel had been depressed the day before the fire, telling him: “No one ever taught me to look after myself, I might as well be dead.”
However, investigators found no evidence that Mr Butterfield had started the fire himself, and while they said this didn’t rule out the possibility, with only the reports of Mr Butterfield’s comments the day before
A life-long sufferer from epilepsy, Mr Butterfield managed his condition with regular medication and significant support from hotel staff who had protocols in place to protect and support Nigel should he suffer a fit at work.
While a toxicology report showed high levels of one of the drugs Nigel took for his condition in blood taken during the post-mortem examination that could have been consistent with an overdose, it was reported that Nigel hadn’t been particularly stringent in managing his conditions and those levels could easily have occurred accidentally.
For a full account of the first three days of the inquest, see this week’s Harrogate Advertiser.
An in-depth report of the case’s conclusion will be in the next edition, published Friday, November 25.