Police told to review procedures - Coroner's call

POLICE have been told to review procedures after a man set himself on fire as officers helplessly looked on.

Tragic David McCarthy, 33, calmly emptied accelerant over his head and set himself alight at his parents' home in Moorland Avenue, Bedlington, after watching a disturbing episode of EastEnders.

The former soldier suffered 85 per cent burns to his body and died in hospital some hours later.

At an inquest at Morpeth Town Hall yesterday it was revealed that police were initially sent to the wrong address 20 miles away, causing a 13-minute delay in reaching the scene.

And North Northumberland Coroner Ian McCreath listed a catalogue of concerns, including problems with police radio operations and the absence of fire blankets.

"This has been a difficult set of circumstances for everyone involved to deal with," he said.

Neighbour Edward Cox told how he called 999 when Mr McCarthy's mother Bernie fled to his home after her son threatened her with a knife shortly after 8pm on Tuesday, January 30.

However, Northumbria Police civilian call handler Amanda Middlemiss entered the wrong address into the system, sending officers to Moorland Avenue in Haltwhistle instead.

The error was only rectified when Mr McCarthy's father Mick, who was on duty as a supervisor at the centre that took the emergency call, was contacted about the incident and noticed there was no record of it.

When police eventually arrived at the scene at about 8.35pm, they found Mr McCarthy had barricaded himself into the house and realised he was carrying knives.

They shouted at him to come outside, but he ignored the calls, pacing through the utility room and kitchen before dowsing himself in accelerant and threatening to kill himself.

Sgt Peter Lake managed to push through the barrier to the house and sprayed Mr McCarthy with CS gas, but it had no effect and he had to retreat as accelerant was on the floor.

Officers then watched in horror as Mr McCarthy set himself alight from the kitchen hob and was engulfed in flames.

He emerged from the house, but police could not find fire extinguishers and were not carrying fire blankets. They tried to use their jackets to dampen the flames, calling for water and blankets from neighbours.

Mr McCarthy was taken to Wansbeck Hospital, but died early the next day.

Giving evidence, Special Constable Faye Cook said she had learned Mr McCarthy had watched an episode of EastEnders immediately prior to the incident, which involved a character pouring flammable liquid around a car, sitting with a lighter and taking a cocktail of tablets and alcohol.

The inquest heard that Mr McCarthy had suffered from depression for a number of years, as well as from periods of alcohol dependency.

He had recently attempted suicide and just days before his death he was discharged from St George's Hospital, Morpeth, for having alcohol on the ward. However, psychological assessments found no evidence of mental illness.

Traces of fluoxetine, which is used for the treatment of depression, were found in his body and Mr McCreath raised fears about the potential side effects of the drug including violent behaviour, although no causative link was established.

He will write to Northumbria Police and the Patient Safety Agency about the drug fluoxetine, which was found in Mr McCarthy’s body, over concerns of possible adverse side effects.

A spokesman for the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust said: “We would like to offer our condolences to the family.

“We cannot comment on individual patients’ care and treatment. However, we have robust procedures in place to address any complaints. We take complaints very seriously and if necessary we would hold an internal investigation.”

Mr McCarthy’s mother paid tribute to her son.

“My son loved his kids. He was a good husband and a good son. He was loved by everybody,” she said.

Verdict: Mr McCarthy killed himself whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed.