12-year-old victim of the silent killer: inquest

A 12-year-old boy died when poisonous fumes leaked from a faulty boiler into his bedroom.

Thursday, 30th September 2004, 3:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 11:20 pm

Joshua Ingamells died from carbon monoxide poisoning as he slept at his Fairlight Road home, an inquest was told this week.

Speaking after Wednesday's inquest, his family made an urgent plea for homeowners to check their central heating to prevent similar heartbreaking incidents.

Paul Ingamells, Joshua's uncle, said: "We've all been devastated by this tragedy, words cannot express a sense of loss. We were unaware of any danger to our family at the time."

The inquest heard how the night before Joshua's death, the family celebrated Paul's birthday in Bexhill.

Joshua had asked to go home at 10pm, to finish homework due the next day at St Richard's College.

Returning back, Joshua stayed up for an hour working on the computer - typing next to the boiler that in a matter of hours would take his life.

Father Graham Ingamells, a builder, said: "His last words to me were 'I'm on top of my homework, you can wake me up at the normal time'."

The following morning, Mr Ingamells was woken by the sound of his son's alarm clock at 6.45am. He said: "I opened the door and the heat him me. As soon as the door opened, I knew there was something very badly wrong."

Mr Ingamells was greeted by the sight of his son's body, lying lifelessly on his back, and a "warm, humid" smell.

Joshua's room was directly above the boiler.

The father of five ran downstairs screaming, turned the boiler off and called the emergency services.

Deadly fumes had also filled his 11-year-old sister's room, linked to Joshua's through a hatch.

But miraculously, the schoolgirl had been sleeping in another part of the house, while her room was redecorated.

Although escaping the full force of the fumes, she had breathed in some of the deadly gas, and collapsed that morning on the top floor landing. She was taken to the Conquest hospital, but released later that day.

Margaret Ingamells, a social care worker, had been out all night and was told of her son's death at work that morning. Their other three children were out of the house.

The family had lived at the five bedroom property for more than 16 years, and had never had the boiler serviced.

Coroner Alan Craze said: "Your philosophy is that if it's working and not showing any signs of damage, then it's OK."

Roger Koster, a consultant gas engineer, checked the boiler after the tragic discovery on February 10. He estimated the boiler was around 40-years-old, and said the problem lay in a combination of flue and boiler problems.

The boiler was in an "exceptionally poor condition" while the badly designed flue was not filtering gas away - with its exit shielded by shrubbery outside the house.

The deadly gas had no chance of escaping, instead, hunting out Joshua's room.

Mr Koster said: "The products have to get away. If they can't go outside they will spill into a room."

Mr Ingamells said none of the family had ever experienced problems associated with carbon monoxide poisoning, such as headaches and lethargy, despite the family using the boiler room regularly.

He said: "Our son was always full of energy."

Mr Koster revealed the rusty brackets which held the boiler indicated faults - caused through condensation - a sign of leaks.

Although carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer, Mr Koster said other signs were soot coatings and stains around the boiler.

But Mr Craze added: "This sort of tragedy can happen without any signs.

"Most of these tragedies take place when the victim is asleep.The brain and vital organs are being starved of oxygen."

Recording a verdict of accidental death, he said: "It seems that the central heating system can be regarded as the most dangerous item there is to be found in any ordinary home. The best course of action is to have it annually serviced."

In a family statement, Paul Ingamells said: "Joshua was a very special boy, he was dearly loved by his family and all who knew him.

"We do hope other families realise the dangers of everyday household appliances we all take for granted.

"We would urge other families to be diligent in getting their boilers checked regularly even if they seem to be working.

"Perhaps invest in a carbon monoxide alarm to prevent a tragedy like this happening again."

Before his death, Joshua had been looking forward to becoming an uncle, and his sister Becky gave birth to a daughter only days after the tragedy.

Hundreds of friends and relatives attended his funeral at the Hastings Centre, where tearful classmates laid flowers at his small coffin.

At the time, Joshua's mother said; "As a family we have felt like we do not want to go on, but he would have wanted us to. A part of us is now in heaven."