Retired couple would have been saved if grill door was open ‘a few millimetres’

The closed door on the grill caused the couple's deaths
The closed door on the grill caused the couple's deaths

A retired couple accidentally poisoned by gas cooker fumes would have survived if the grill door had been opened by a few millimetres, an inquest has heard.

John 'Francie' and Frances 'Nan' O'Reilly were found dead in January in the living room of the static caravan they had lived in for 30 years in the seaside town of Newcastle, Co Down, in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Coroner's Court heard they owned a gas cooker which had been the subject of a number of safety warnings about the serious risks of carbon monoxide build-up associated with operating the grill with the door closed.

When the couple, both aged in their mid-70s, were found the grill was turned on and the door was closed.

Principal inspector with the Health and Safety Executive NI, Jim King, told coroner John Leckey that even having the door slightly ajar would have enabled enough air to get to the flame to keep it alight and prevent the gas build up.

"The difference is a few millimetres," he said.

"That would probably have saved their lives. We are looking at a terrible tragedy - a few millimetres would have made the difference."

Mr Leckey said the case demonstrated the often "fine line between life and death".

Mr King told the court the O'Reillys' cooker - a New World Vision 50WLM - was among 17 models from four brands owned by manufacturer Beko that had been subject to product warnings.

The cookers are used in all types of kitchens, not just caravans.

He said the cookers complied with EU regulations and were "perfectly safe" to use with the grill door open, but he said they had a specific flaw that, if operated against guidelines with the door closed, could cause a large volume of carbon monoxide to build up.

The inspector said he was aware of six other deaths in the British Isles - three in England and Wales, two in the Republic and one in Northern Ireland - caused by operating one of the cookers with the door closed, between 2008 and 2009.

He said Beko had issued a number of product warnings, which offered advice on how to get the cookers modified.

Mr O'Reilly was a gardener and his wife a retired shopkeeper. They did not have any children.

Their nephew Vincent Marks told Mr Leckey they were "set in their ways".

"New appliances - they wouldn't have been up to date with them," he said.

"They wouldn't have been up to date people."

The couple lived full time on a plot in Bonny's caravan park.

In August 2010, two teenagers were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in Northern Ireland.

Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson died after a gas leak in a holiday apartment in Castlerock, County Londonderry.

The 18-year-olds had been staying at the apartment near Coleraine with a third friend, Matthew Gaw, who survived. The three men were found by relatives.

The law surrounding carbon monoxide alarms was tightened as a result and the warning devices are a legal requirement in all new homes.