Couple kill themselves in ‘suicide pact’ after their house was wrecked by storm

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A married couple made a “suicide pact” and killed themselves in a car explosion just days after their home was flooded by heavy rain, an inquest heard.

The bodies of Paul and Susan Dickinson, both 71, were found inside their car in a garage behind their cottage in Cranberry, Staffordshire.

Mr Dickinson was in the driver’s seat and Mrs Dickinson, who had epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, asthma and breast cancer, was next to him in the front passenger seat.

The vehicle was set alight using a flammable liquid and a lighter or a match when the couple died on August 15, an investigation revealed.

The flooding of the couple’s home, where they had lived for 45 years, was a ‘traumatic event’, and it was likely that they wouldn’t be able to live there again for a significant amount of time, the inquest heard.

Now South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh delivered a double suicide verdict.

Fire service investigator Luke Beckett said: “In this particular case, the likely source of ignition would be a naked flame, either a lighter or a match.

“The fire was ignited from within the vehicle inside the garage at the rear of the cottage.

“The fire then spread to involve the structure of the garage and its contents.

“We detected that a flammable liquid had been introduced to the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

“There was low-order explosive damage to the structure of the garage and the vehicle.”

Mr Beckett added: “It was evident that Mr Dickinson was very much in an almost braced position whereas Mrs Dickinson did not display the same posture.

“She was very relaxed and her arms were across her front. Her head was in a normal upright position whereas Mr Dickinson’s was against the back head rest.

“It indicated a difference in reaction to the fire.

“There wasn’t any indication that they were in the frame of mind to take their lives.”

The tragedy occurred three days after the Dickinsons were forced to move out of Cranberry Cottage, near Cotes Heath, due to flooding.

They killed themselves when they returned to the property for the first time.

Mr Haigh said: “Their property was badly flooded by heavy rain and they had to move out.

“On August 15, they returned to the property although it is unlikely they were able to live there again for a considerable amount of time.

“They had hired a vehicle which they parked in front of a skip on the drive of the property. In that vehicle they left notes, including a note signed by both of them which can be described as a suicide note.

“They then entered the garage and got into their own vehicle, which was not working due to the flooding, and set fire to it.

“The noise was detected by neighbours across the road. The emergency services attended and ultimately they were found dead in that vehicle in the garage.”

The couple died as a consequence of being exposed to the fire.

Mr Haigh added: “The fire is likely to have been caused by something being deliberately ignited inside that car while both deceased were seated in the car.

“They appear to be willing participants in their deaths and it is described as a suicide pact.

“It’s what they both sadly wanted and I am content, on the balance of probabilities, that the deaths can both be described as suicide.

“The cause of death for both of them is exposure to fire and for both of them I record a conclusion of suicide.”