Former serviceman died aboard his boat
By Court reporter | 5th December 2018
A former Royal Navy serviceman burnt to death on his boat in Sharpness Marina, Gloucestershire, when a blaze broke out in the new engine he had fitted earlier that day, an inquest has been told.
Philip Brookes, 48, of Charnwood Close, Birmingham (pictured right), was sleeping aboard the vessel after a heavy drinking session with a friend when the fire broke out, the Gloucester inquest heard.
He used the boat two or three days a week to cut down his commuting time to his job in Bristol, the coroner was told.
On May 23, after fitting the new engine in the boat and ringing his wife Kelly excitedly so she could hear the sound of it running, he and a friend drank heaviy on board.
When fire was later spotted on board the emergency services were called but the boat was destroyed and sank. By the time the fire crew arrived Mr Brookes was already dead, the inquest heard.
The post mortem revealed a very high level of carbon monoxide at 44% in his blood - more than four times the amount that would be found in a regular cigarette smoker.
He was also extremely intoxicated with 301mgs of alcohol in his blood - almost four times the drink-drive limit.
The pathologist concluded that he would have been alive at the time of the fire but most likely unconscious due to smoke inhalation and extreme drunkeness.
An investigation was launched into the cause of the fire and although it was hindered by the destruction of the boat and the fact it had sunk, it appeared the fire started in the engine area following the maintenance carried out by Phil the day before.
The investigation concluded that on the balance of probabilities and no evidence of suspicious circumstances, the fire was accidental.
Mr Brookes' wife, Kelly Brookes, said she heard from him the day before when he told her he was fitting a new engine. She said in her statement he was "very excited and got me to listen to the sound of the engine on the phone."
Daniel Milburn, who had been drinking aboard the boat with Mr Brookes the evening before the fire, said in his statement that he left the vessel at around 9:30pm. They had both been drinking a lot of alcohol including vodka and some shots, he said.
"At 11:45pm I woke up to go to the toilet and saw a bright glow coming from his boat. I then saw flames," Mr Milburn said in his statement.
Two further witnesses, Paul Marsh and Richard Hughes, said there was a strong smell of petroleum coming from the boat when they passed it earlier that day.
Mr Marsh also said he saw the two men who appeared drunk but in good spirits when he saw them.
Senior Coroner Katie Skerrett said that although she recognised the fire investigation was hindered, it was confirmed there were no suspicious circumstances and the fire was an accident.
"Some detail remains unclear, like what started the fire but I am satisfied this was an accidental fire.
"It seems Phil was working on the boat the day before. The following day Phil and Mr Milburn were seen getting on well. Both consumed a significant amount of alcohol and Mr Milburn left the boat.
"At some point later Phil fell asleep and in the early hours the boat caught fire" Mrs Skerrett said recording a conclusion of accidental death.
*When Phil died many tributes were paid to the "popular and longstanding member of the Royal Naval Reserve at HMS Forward for the last 14 years, who also had nine years previous service in the Royal Navy."
A Facebook post at the time of his death read "He will be fondly remembered for his commitment, enthusiasm and sense of humour and will be greatly missed by all who served with him.
"Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones."
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