Palette firm worker died warming hands

Northampton County Hall
Northampton County Hall

The family of a Banbury man killed in a freak fire at his workplace said an inquest into his death yesterday (Wednesday) left several questions unanswered.

John Houghton, 59, of Boxhedge Road, West Banbury, died of 85 per cent burns on June 27 last year, three months after injuring himself during a shift at Towcester firm Smith’s Palettes, based at Jacks Hill.

On March 27, 2013, he had been working outside in the cold and, as was occasional practice, lit a fire in the courtyard to warm his hands.

But the inquest heard that no-one saw the fire ‘explode’, leaving Mr Houghton with horrific burns to his body.

A jury of eight men and two women returned a verdict of accidental death at an inquest at County Hall in Northampton yesterday.

His closest family – brother and sister Albert Houghton and Maureen Townsend – say they may now never know how their brother died.

Maureen said: “There was a lack of witnesses – we didn’t know what happended at the time and we are probably never going to know now are we? How did some­one go from just warming their hands up by a fire to being caught in an explosion just like that?”

Albert said: “We are having the headstone done this week and we still do not know what to put on it.”

Following the incident early in the afternoon of March 27, 2013, his boss Steven Smith, of Abingodon, Oxford, drove Mr Houghton to Milton Keynes Hospital, arriving there at around 2pm.

Mr Houghton initially told nursing staff on arrival that he had received the burns warming his hands on a fire ‘in a lay-by’, which exploded in his face and burned him

He claimed he was on his way to a funeral with a friend when the two of them stopped in the lay-by to urinate.

Mr Smith told the inquest that Mr Houghton lied to the nursing staff because he was claiming out-of-work benefits and did not want officials to know he had received the injuries while working.

After being initially assessed in Milton Keynes Mr Houghton was taken to the St Andrew Centre for Burns at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, where he was kept in intensive care until his eventual death that June.

Mr Smith said that staff at his firm would ‘occasionally’ have fires in the courtyard with ‘bits of wood and paper’ to keep warm on cold days.

He said the firm had a fire extinguisher on site and Mr Houghton would often light such fires on his own.

But Mr Smith said he had no idea ‘to this day’ how the routine fire killed Mr Houghton. He told the inquest: “I assume he started the fire to keep warm because he said his hands were cold. There were no actual witnesses there .”

Coroner Anne Pember then asked the company boss: “So you are saying there were no witnesses as to how he started the fire and what materials he used to start the fire?

Mr Smith replied: “No.”

The coroner said it was not known if Mr Houghton was claiming benefits or not.