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Inquest calls for checks on solid fuel appliances

A coroner is demanding tough new laws governing checks on solid fuel appliances after a pensioner died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a National Trust property.

Pembrokeshire Coroner Michael Howells has called for “appropriate regulations” to be introduced after stating that “inadequate maintenance of flues and chimneys for a solid fuel appliance” led to the death of Leslie George Bateman.

Mr Howells recorded a narrative verdict of death from carbon monoxide poisoning after the 87-year-old was found dead on February 7 at his ‘grace and favour’ cottage on the Stakepole Estate, Pembrokeshire, which is owned by the National Trust.

Smoke tests revealed the cottage’s kitchen had no fixed ventilation and a chimney for smoke from a Rayburn cooker was 99 per cent blocked. External doors giving access to the chimney for maintenance were rusted shut.

Jim Lambeth, Solid Fuel Association general manager, said Mr Howells was raising an important point: “In the majority of cases like this it’s lack of maintenance of chimneys or flues and seldom because of appliance or commissioning that is to blame.

“A lot of tenancy agreements do not stipulate chimney sweeping yet legally gas appliances have to be serviced. This is a two-tier system.

“There are no regulations currently that say appliances must be serviced and chimneys swept once a year. It would be good to have a regime. How you police and administer it I do not know.

“Some of the large housing associations are very good at ensuring regular maintenance. It is the small private landlords which are the worst at looking after tenants.”

Bruce Allen, chief executive of HETAS, said: “This is a tragic event that has highlighted the need for regular maintenance of solid fuel appliances, and in particular that chimneys should be swept at least once a year.

“Correct installation is obviously important, but we must get the message through to consumers that they need to have their appliances and chimneys regularly maintained – preferably by a trained and qualified HETAS registered engineer or listed chimney sweep.”

The National Trust said it would be “helpful” for “additional clarification over the practical implications for responsibility for inspection and maintenance of solid fuel.”

A Trust spokesman said: “We are considering matters following the inquest, and the incident is still subject to HSE investigation.”

CO-Gas Safety is lobbying for compulsory servicing of all appliances owned by landlords and powered by combustible fuel. “This would be a clearer law for landlords and would be safer for tenants,” argued Stephanie Trotter OBE, president and director of CO-Gas Safety.

She added: “There is no logical justification for specific regulation requiring a landlord’s gas safety certificate but not requiring this for appliances powered by other fuels such as coal, oil, wood.”

A solution proposed by CO-Gas Safety is regular MOTs by qualified engineers on appliances and a requirement that the supplier sees the MOT every year before supplying further fuel.

However this could be a ‘draconian’ step says Ms Trotter. “There are many other measures which could be tried before this is imposed,” she added.