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Wife hospitalised but husband killed later by fumes from cleaned flue

A man has died of carbon monoxide poisoning after the central heating flue in his home became blocked, the day after it was cleaned out.
Robert Sinclair was discovered dead in his Co Antrim home hours after his wife was hospitalised when she inhaled the deadly gas.

On August 2, 2008, a chimney sweep made his annual call to the couple's Northern Ireland home to sweep their flue and clean the boiler.

Later that day, Robert Sinclair's wife Patrica complained of severe headaches and chest pains and was rushed to hospital by ambulance.

Doctors told Mr Sinclair, that he could return to the hospital the next morning to collect his wife, but it was his failure to show up the next day that raised concerns for his safety.

Emergency services then broke into Robert Sinclair's home to reach the 80 year-old retired law lecturer, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The coroner at the Belfast inquest said the flue and boiler of Mr Sinclair's coal pellet-burning central heating boiler had been cleaned by the chimney sweep, but had then become blocked.

Coroner Brian Sherrard said: 'It seems highly likely that this blockage occurred after the cleaning took place. It seems to me a very important lesson can be learned from this death that may be of assistance to other people who have chimneys and flues swept.'

He added: 'The best we can do following cleaning is to be particularly vigilant for a number of days afterwards with regard to possible unexpected build up of soot.'

Experts from the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) giving evidence at the inquest, said that when the central heating boiler was re-lit after cleaning, a build up of soot fell down causing a blockage which allowed deadly fumes to enter the house.

Health & Safety Executive inspector Dr William Burns said he was keen to prevent such a case happening again by discussing the best ways to tackle any build up in flues which sweeping fails to remove.

A spokesman for the HSENI said: 'We will be speaking to the Northern Ireland Chimney Sweeps Association as a result of what happened in this case. We are also encouraging people to install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes'.
12 June 2009

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