Discarded cigarette blamed for blaze that killed Richard Jessup, founder of Richmond Park Golf Club in Watton

A fire at a Watton golf club which killed its wheelchair-bound founder was probably started when he accidentally discarded a lit cigarette, an inquest heard.

Richard Jessup's son, Simon, and a barman had tried to rescue him after the blaze broke out at his apartment at the Richmond Park Golf Club just before midday on April 18, but they were beaten back by smoke.

Simon Jessup told yesterday's inquest at Norwich Coroner's Court that his father, 66, who was known as Dick, was diagnosed with MS in the mid-1990s, but was still able to light cigarettes himself, despite becoming immobile by 2008.

His wife, Margaret, and Michael Moore, a friend since 1964, said he was careful to fully extinguish cigarettes.

Mr Moore said Mr Jessup asked him to light a half-smoked cigarette when he visited him on the morning of the fire, but he made sure it was out and moved the lighter and ashtray out of his reach before leaving.

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Fire investigator Philip Berry said a lighter, ashtray and foil that could have been from a cigarette packed were found on the floor beside Mr Jessup, and smoking materials were the fire's most likely cause.

A post mortem examination found Mr Jessup died of 'severe thermal burns', and coroner William Armstrong, who described him as a 'positive and resourceful man', recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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He said: 'It seems very likely that Dick discarded a lit cigarette, and that is what caused the fire. I fully accept he was usually very careful but obviously something went wrong and obviously it was affected by his disability. This was a tragic accident.'

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