Huntingdonshire man who died in fire at his home ‘received threats’

House fire at Upwood

House fire at Upwood - Credit: Archant

A 75-year-old man who died after a fire at his home had received threats, an inquest was told.

Ivan Hempsted of High Street, Upwood, was found dead in his bedroom on the morning of August 23 last year after emergency services were called to tackle a fire. Firefighters found Mr Hempsted, who was severely burned, on his bed and a petrol can on the floor.

An inquest at Huntingdon Law Courts on Friday heard that police officers could find no sign of forced entry to the house or a struggle, and concluded that the fire was most likely started by Mr Hempsted, who died of smoke inhalation.

Coroner David Morris recorded an open verdict, stating that while there was no evidence of third party involvement, he was reluctant to say that Mr Hempsted had committed suicide.

But Mr Hempsted’s family suggested that the police should have further investigated alleged threats he received regarding land he wished to provide for the setting up of a travellers’ site.

Detective Sergeant Leigh Allman, who was the investigating officer, told the court: “My conclusion is that this was a suicide. The person who had started the fire had used care to make sure there was no large damage. Mr Hempsted had begun to make preparations by arranging to see a solicitor and returning a set of keys to his neighbour that he had had for several years.”

DS Allman also described how neighbours had said Mr Hempstead had not coped well with the death of his wife in 2009.

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On the day of the fire, all of the entrances to Mr Hempsted’s house were locked with a key. The garage had been left open and the key had been left in a car parked on the drive.

However, Mr Hempsted’s brother, Esmond Hempsted, refuses to accept the police’s conclusion.

He told the inquest in a statement: “He had several people come to see him about giving the land to travellers. He was a little bloke and couldn’t have really defended himself. This isn’t one of those things where we are saying my brother couldn’t do that – it just doesn’t feel right and I think there’s more to come.”

Esmond Hempsted said that his brother was arranging to see a solicitor about his land and had only returned the neighbour’s key as his neighbour had retired.

The family were also unhappy that the police did not speak to one of Mr Hempsted’s neighbours who had talked to him the night before he died.

“The police have made a lot of assumptions that are wrong,” said Esmond Hempsted. “They spoke to a number of people on the street but for some reason they did not speak to the lady who lives next door. He spent an hour speaking to her the night before.”

In recording the verdict, Mr Morris said: “I don’t think I have quite sufficient strength of evidence and I’m minded to record an open verdict which will leave no definitive decision as to whether he took his own life.”

Cambridgeshire police said a full investigation had been carried out and the death was not treated as suspicious.