Horror of the human fireball

Date published: 12 October 2009

A TEACHER shielded pupils from the sight of a man set alight on playing fields.

Cleaner Ian Taylor (46), of Bankside Close, Oldham, became a human fireball in the horrific incident at Oldham Edge on November 25 last year. An inquest into his death on Friday failed to rule whether it was suicide or a bizarre accident.

His brother, Philip Taylor — who was involved in a serious accident in the 1980s that left him in a coma for a number of years and in hospital for 10 years — said he lost contact with Ian after their father died in 1992 but would see him occasionally in Oldham.

One night last November Ian turned up out of the blue at his brother’s flat in Sunfield Road, Coldhurst, and stayed for several days. Philip later found out his quiet and private brother had had a row with his partner, the mother of his four children.

Ian had been suicidal after a spilt from a previous girl friend in his twenties but had been talked round.

On the day he died, he had left his brother’s home suddenly at 6am.

Mr Taylor said: “He was full of beans when he turned up at my flat. He did not look depressed. I didn’t think he would do something like that. I don’t think he intended to do it.”

Resident David Oakes was in his garden at 8.15am when he heard a large boom, almost like a petrol tank exploding.

He said: “I looked across the field and saw a ball of flame and smoke. I heard what I believe sounded like a male voice give a loud yell as if in pain.”

But he thought it was someone setting fire to a car, common in the area.

Teacher Jane Curley was supervising Bluecoat School Year 8 children, aged around 12, in a cross-country competition at 9.15am when pupils pointed out a fire in bushes 120yd away. Shrubbery was obstructing the view but when she got closer she saw it was a body on fire.

She said: “It was almost burnt through. Everything looked black and still on fire.”

She called 999 on a mobile phone and made sure children were kept away. She stayed with the body until police arrived. Ian was identified from his dental records. His burnt passport was also found near by.

A post-mortem examination revealed he was alive during the fire, meaning he had not died and then been set alight. He had not drunk alcohol and there was just a low dose of an anti-depressant in his system.

Det Insp Christopher Bridge, from Oldham CID, said a six pint bottle of milk still containing around a pint of petrol was found close to the body and a lighter under the left hand.

He did not think it likely that Ian, a smoker, had accidentally ignited the petrol fumes while lighting a cigarette, because of the position of the milk carton. There were no suspicious circumstances. Local garages were visited by officers but no one remembered selling the petrol.

Recording an open verdict, coroner Simon Nelson said: “There’s no evidence to what occurred during the minutes prior to Mr Taylor being set alight. I accept there was no third-party involvement. I can’t rule out the possibility it was an inadvertent or accidental act. I cannot be sure he intended to kill himself.

“The circumstances were absolutely horrific and must have been extremely traumatic for all those involved and will sadly leave a lasting impression. I thank Miss Curley for remaining at the scene in difficult circumstances.”

Mr Taylor added: “I’d like to thank the teacher. She did the right thing. Children would not have liked to have seen that.”

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