Ian Paton: Top barrister died after stacks of paper in his Thames-side apartment caught fire in 'tragic' accident

Patrick Grafton-Green
'Tragic death': Ian Paton died after a blaze in his Bermondsey flat

A top barrister and part-time judge died after stacks of paper caught fire in his cluttered London flat days before Christmas, an inquest heard.

Firefighters found Ian Paton unconscious in his bedroom at his Thames-side apartment in Bermondsey, along with evidence of a small blaze around a halogen stove.

The 66-year-old, who worked for QEB Hollis Whiteman Chambers, was described by his ex-wife as "notoriously untidy" and someone who found it difficult to sleep after working long, irregular hours.

In a statement read to Southwark Coroner's Court, Elizabeth Paton said: "He was notoriously untidy. He was by far the most untidy man most people ever met.

"His flat was too much of a mess to be conducive to work in."

In a tribute read to the court, Ms Paton said her former husband's death had left her and her daughter "utterly bereft".

She said: "Ian's death was a terrible tragedy but it's made even more unbearable by the fact we as a family were on the brink of a new future together."

She continued: "Since our divorce five years ago, we had become reconciled and we had again become close.

"Ian's tragic death coming when it did has robbed him of so much anticipated and planned happiness.

"It has left Alexandra, my daughter, and me utterly bereft."

Ms Paton said he had been planning to give notice to his chambers just days after the fire took hold, and was looking forward to working part time from her Wiltshire cottage.

She added: "He was optimistic and very much looking forward to what we thought was going to be our golden years together."

Firefighters forced entry to Mr Paton’s flat in Luna House, Bermondsey Wall West, shortly after 5.30pm on December 20.

London Fire Brigade investigator Barry Kent said they found the "cluttered" flat littered with papers and files, and Mr Paton lying close to the bedroom door.

"Most of the work surfaces were full of stuff, you could just about make out the shape of an electric hob," he said.

Describing the likely source of the fire, Mr Kent told the inquest: "The burn patterns indicated that the fire had started in or around the hob and had then spread over the surface of the paper.

"The paper then dropped down into a file and then the fire spread to the chair and the other stuff on the floor."

Mr Kent also noted that the internal alarm system had been working at the time, and could be heard from the corridor outside.

A post-mortem examination showed that Mr Paton, of Luna House, Bermondsey, had died of carbon monoxide poisoning, hastened by heart disease.

Dr Charlotte Randall, who conducted the examination, also noted in her report that Mr Paton's blood showed he had drunk alcohol at a level 1.5 times over the legal drink-drive limit, and contained traces of the sleeping pill, Zopiclone.

Ms Patton said her husband "was not a regular drinker, and rarely has he ever drank in my company", but noted that the time of his death a few days before Christmas would have coincided with "festive lunches", where drinking was common.

Assistant Coroner Shanta Deonarine recorded the cause of death as carbon monoxide poisoning.

She said: "It is probable, that is, it is more likely than not, that Mr Paton came by his death as a result of that fire.

"His death was the consequence of an unlikely event and I therefore conclude that Mr Paton died as a result of an accident."

A statement posted on the website of QEB Hollis Whiteman, described him as a "kind, generous, witty, wise, great and defining" member of the group, who "shall be terribly missed".

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