Porter’s hotel fire death ‘an accident’ says inquest jury

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A JURY has returned an accidental verdict at the inquest into the death of a kitchen porter who died in a devastating fire which tore through Harrogate’s Majestic Hotel last year.

The majority verdict was returned yesterday after the jury had spent several days hearing evidence about the 41-year-old porter Nigel Butterfield who suffered from epilepsy.

The hearing at Conyngham Hall, Knaresborough, heard how the fire had begun in his room on the staff floor at the top of the landmark hotel in the early hours of May 5.

More than 130 guests and 53 staff were safely evacuated as the flames swept through the building.

The court heard that Mr Butterfield, a medium-to-heavy smoker who had learning difficulties and was a “bit of a loner” had lived and worked for most of his adult life at the hotel.

Opening a week-long hearing into the death, North Yorkshire Coroner Rob Turnbull said a heat detector alarm in Mr Butterfield’s room had been triggered at 4.50am and firefighters were called.

Colleagues and firefighters bravely attempted to reach Mr Butterfield, but were beaten back by the flames.

When his badly burnt body was later found, it appeared he had been overcome by smoke while trying to reach the bedroom window.

A post-mortem examination concluded Mr Butterfield died of smoke inhalation and a fire investigation found no evidence the blaze had been deliberately started. After summing up the evidence, Mr Turnbull directed the jury to return one of two verdicts – either accidental or open and specifically forbade them from returning a suicide verdict.

He said that although Mr Butterfield had made remarks to colleagues that he would be better off dead just hours before the blaze started there was precious little evidence to support such a theory.

An accidentally dropped cigarette may have started the fire.