DERBYSHIRE HOUSE EXPLOSION: “Disillusioned” husband set house ablaze after wife stabbed 18 times

Fire crews are lifted closer to the scene of a fire, in Riddings, near Alfreton, Derbyshire, where a suspected gas explosion took place in the early hours of Sunday 20 September 2015. It is thought that there could have been people in the house when the fire started.
Fire crews are lifted closer to the scene of a fire, in Riddings, near Alfreton, Derbyshire, where a suspected gas explosion took place in the early hours of Sunday 20 September 2015. It is thought that there could have been people in the house when the fire started.
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A “disillusioned” husband set fire to his family home in a “deliberate act” to kill himself while his stabbed wife lay dead on a bed,” an inquest heard.

The “severely burnt” bodies of Simon and Shelley Saxton-Cooper, who had been together for 25 years, were found at their fire ravaged and partially collapsed home on Valley View Road, Riddings, in September last year after an explosion.

Fire damage is visible at the rear of a house, in Riddings, near Alfreton, Derbyshire, where a suspected gas explosion took place in the early hours of Sunday 20 September 2015. It is thought that there could have been people in the house when the fire started.

Fire damage is visible at the rear of a house, in Riddings, near Alfreton, Derbyshire, where a suspected gas explosion took place in the early hours of Sunday 20 September 2015. It is thought that there could have been people in the house when the fire started.

Mrs Saxton-Cooper, aged 45, was found with 18 stab wounds and died before the blaze started.

Mr Saxton-Cooper, aged 50, was found with a single stab wound to his back and died after the fire was started.

On Tuesday, assistant coroner for Derbyshire, James Newman, concluded that Mrs Saxton-Cooper’s death was unlawful killing and Mr Saxton’s death was suicide.

“I do not think we are ever going to know what happened on September 20 2015,” Mr Newman said.

General view of Valley View Road, in Riddings, near Alfreton, Derbyshire, where fire crews are working following a suspected gas explosion, which took place in the early hours of Sunday 20 September 2015. It is thought that there could have been people in the house when the fire started.

General view of Valley View Road, in Riddings, near Alfreton, Derbyshire, where fire crews are working following a suspected gas explosion, which took place in the early hours of Sunday 20 September 2015. It is thought that there could have been people in the house when the fire started.

“The impressions I have is that they met young, married young, and were together for 25 years.

“They had their ups and downs like many families but they lived and loved for each other very much.

“There was a change in Simon’s mental health coinciding with some unusual behaviour reported by several witnesses. Simon mentioned to a number of witnesses that he had been in a dark place.

“About nine months before their deaths we heard evidence that Simon and Shelley had found spiritualism and spiritual healing.”

Neighboours pay tribute to married couple killed in an explosion at a house in Riddings yesterday (Sunday)

Neighboours pay tribute to married couple killed in an explosion at a house in Riddings yesterday (Sunday)

Mr Newman added: “We have also heard evidence that about three weeks before Simon appeared quiet and there was a conversation about suicide.”

“I do not think this was a definite reference to suicide or that it was a suicide pact.”

The two-day inquest at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court heard the couple had just returned from a “lovely” one-week holiday in Norfolk to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Station manager at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue, Adam Hind, gave evidence in which he explained how blood was found in the kitchen sink, on the kitchen surface and on a tobacco packet downstairs during investigations into the blaze.

“At that time it became apparent that it may not have been an accident,” Mr Hind said.

He then told the court how evidence of an “ignitable liquid” was found on the stairs to the first floor, on a carpet in a small front bedroom and more predominantly in the master bedroom near to where Mr Saxton-Cooper was found.

A disposable lighter was also found a few inches away from where Mr Saxton-Cooper’s body was discovered and a plastic petrol container was later located in the front garden.

Mr Hind added: “In my professional opinion with the evidence available to me, the most likely cause is deliberate ignition of an ignitable liquid in the first floor front bedroom of the property.”

Detective Constable, Lynn Abdy, of East Midlands Special Operations Unit, said CCTV showed Mr Saxton-Cooper purchasing a petrol can from a B&Q store in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, and five litres of petrol from a garage in Ilkeston three weeks before the incident.

“We could not find any particular reason what that purchase had been made for on that day,” DC Abdy said.

Mr Newman said: “It is just speculative but it does seem unusual that it was purchased quite so close to the events.”

DC Abdy then said that during the police investigation no suicide note was found and there was no further information that supported a claim by friend Vanessa Swanbrough who said that Mr Saxton-Cooper had talked about suicide during a conversation in which he apparently told her: “If we were to go, we would go together.”

DC Abdy also confirmed the accelerant found at the property was petrol.

“A hypothesis of what has happened is that Simon has stabbed Shelley and caused her death and then has ignited the vapour and then set that alight.

“Sadly, we will never know what was in Simon’s mind or indeed Shelley’s.”

The inquest had previously heard on Monday that Mrs Saxton-Cooper, a telesales operative, was found with 18 stab wounds to her back, shoulder and chest. The official cause of death was given as stab wounds to her chest.

Mr Saxton-Cooper, a former plumber, was found with a single stab wound to his back. His cause of death was given as burns and smoke inhalation.

It was said that a knife which was found still lodged in the chest cavity of Mrs Saxton-Cooper, could have been used to inflict both sets of injuries.

Chief forensic pathologist at East Midlands Pathology Unit, Professor Guy Rutty, said: “It could have been inflicted by themselves or it could have been inflicted by another.”

Over the course of the inquest it was said that Mr Saxton-Cooper had suffered from depression, mood changes, and had been taking anti-depressants.

Nine months before their deaths, it emerged the couple had shown an interest in spiritualism and attended Belper Spiritualist Church after Mr Saxton-Cooper had a “calling from God”.

Books on reincarnation were also found in the garage at their home.

An account from a friend of the couple, Julie Valence, said in her statement that Mr Saxton-Cooper had started referring to events “in the past” and that he had told her that he had been “sat with dead relatives”.

Evidence was also heard from another couple, Vanessa and Paul Swanbrough, who said that Mr Saxton-Cooper had talked about suicide and that him and Mrs Saxton-Cooper “would go together” in a conversation three weeks before their deaths.

Mr Swanbrough said: “Simon was extremely disillusioned in life.

“At one point he said that he was going to make me better. He said that he was going to use his heeling powers to make me better.”

Mrs Swanbrough said: “Looking back now we did not see certain signs and we did not look into it.

“Simon was telling me that he could he could see spirits in my property and that there was spirits above my head.”

A statement read out on behalf of Mrs Saxton-Cooper’s dad, Malcolm Street, a retired fitter, told how the couple first met when they were 18 and that they seemed happy and never argued.

“Simon had become more reclusive but that is not something that Shelley saw and she was happy with him,” his statement said.

A statement was also read out on behalf of Mr Street’s wife, Jean, who described Mr Saxton-Cooper as a “lovely, quiet lad”.

Mr Saxton Cooper’s mum, Faye Cooper, said in her statement the couple “loved being around each other” and spent a lot of time walking their dog and visiting garden centres.

Neighbours on the street gave evidence in which they described being woken on the day of the fire by a “massive bang” which was “like a skip dropping from the sky” and how the flames were “ferocious”.

The roof of the property had crumbled, a front bedroom window had been blown out onto the street and one side of the property had “pancaked”.

One neighbour, Marcus Cope, described what he saw as he was getting into his vehicle that morning.

“I went out of the house at about 7.25am when I heard a loud crashing,” he said.

“I spun around and I heard an explosion and that’s when the window came out.

“A second later I heard a screaming noise, like a lion roaring.

“There was no window and that’s when I saw Simon in a ball of flames.”

Mr Cope added: “He was there for a couple of seconds screaming and then he stopped screaming and then sort of fell down and then I did not seen him after that.

“The only way I could tell it was a male was because of the pitch of the screaming.

“I would say that me hearing the crash to Simon screaming, it was about ten seconds.”

All residents and emergency services were commended by Mr Newman, including neighbour and firefighter Paul Archer, who used his old safety equipment to make his way into the property to try and save the couple but was “beaten back” by the flames.

Concluding the inquest, Mr Newman, said: “I record that Shelley died as a result of stab wounds to the chest.

“She was found with multiple wounds to her torso.

“Her death was unlawful killing.”

Mr Newman continued: “Simon died as a result of burns and inhalation of smoke and products of combustion.

“On 20 September a fire was started at 25 Valley View Road by the deceased in the master bedroom.

“Simon suffered catastrophic injuries of that fire.

“I find that he intentionally started the fire in a deliberate act to take his own life.

“My conclusion is that Simon’s death was suicide.”

When those present were asked if they had any further questions, Mr Street, said: “No, I don’t think. We are still left with the question why.”