Family died after bag blocked chimney

Carbon monoxide killed a family of three in Christmas week 2011 after a plastic bag blocked a chimney.

A fire officer and coroner yesterday urged householders to install carbon monoxide monitors, hearing how the “silent killer” claimed the lives of a father and his two children as they sat watching television.

Sligo Coroner’s Court was told of the “freak” circumstances when a crisp wrapper was thrown onto a dying coal fire. The fire was not hot enough to melt it, but filled the bag with gas “like a hot air balloon” so that it blew up and became lodged in the chimney, obstructing it, and causing carbon monoxide to be released into the sitting room.

The scene was described by coroner Dr Des Moran as one of the saddest he had ever come across.

The television and Christmas tree lights were still on when the bodies of Trevor Wallwork, 52, his daughter Kimberley, 12, and son Harry, 9, were discovered in their home about a mile from the village of Gurteen, Co Sligo, on Dec 18, 2011.

Sligo’s chief fire officer Paul Coyle, who attended the scene, said the deaths would have occurred within minutes given the high levels of carbon monoxide released. He said the chimney flue had been recently cleaned and was in good condition.

When firefighters and gardaí arrived, they found Mr Wallwork sitting in an armchair facing the television with a blanket over his knees and his head slumped to one side. His children were lying on the floor. Kimberley was in her pyjamas while Harry, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, had his head on a cushion.

All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr Coyle told the jury that after climbing onto the roof, he concluded the chimney was obstructed. Using a tongs, he removed the crisp bag which was 1.2m from the top.

Mr Coyle said carbon monoxide detectors should be in all homes using any kind of combustible fuel.

Mr Wallwork’s wife Susan had been in Sligo General Hospital at the time, being treated for cancer. She died six months later.

Her daughter Vicky Barnes, who had raised the alarm, said she hoped lessons would be learned from the tragedy.

Finding in accordance with the evidence that the deaths were accidental and caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, the jury urged people to be conscious of what they throw on fires.

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