Whittlesey pensioner who waited 11 days for boiler repairs during cold spell ‘died of natural causes’, coroner rules

A “stressed” pensioner who died of a heart attack three days before Christmas after waiting 11 days for her boiler to be repaired could have died “on any day” and was a “ticking time bomb,” an inquest heard.

Thursday, 19th September 2019, 5:26 pm

The hearing at Huntingdon Law Courts heard how Patricia Gavaghan (80), who lived alone in Whittlesey, had underlying health issues.

Medical evidence from Dr William Davies discovered that Mrs Gavaghan’s arteries were clogged to a severity of 90 per cent.

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Assistant coroner Nick Moss said: “Her death was expected knowing what the issues were with her arteries. It was in Dr Davies’ words a ‘ticking time bomb’.

“She could have died on any day with the severe clogging of her arteries.”

Her grieving family argued that the “stress, anger and the cold” could have contributed to her death after she received the news that her appointment was pushed back yet again.

However, although Mrs Gavaghan’s house may have been cold, it did not fall below freezing, the inquest heard.

The inquest had previously heard that Mrs Gavaghan’s bungalow was owned by Clarion Housing and maintained by Morgan Sindall.

Her family claimed the boiler system was more than 15 years old and engineers struggled to get parts to make repairs.

Representing Morgan Sindall, Mark Waterhouse said the company was “unable to cope” with the high number of enquiries after taking on the contract in October 2017.

On average, the firm expected to take an average of 1,870 calls a month - but received 6,079 that October.

Mrs Gavaghan (80) had reported her broken boiler as an amber weather warning was put in place due to a prolonged cold spell.

Mr Moss said: “I find in relation to the temperature that it did not drop below or come close to freezing - there was no suggestion that pipes had frozen, for example.

“Although I accept the house was cold I find it is unlikely that Patricia was so cold that she suffered hypothermia.

“She had a heater and used it intermittently because she was cautious about leaving it unattended.”

Family members also offered more heaters to Mrs Gavaghan but she refused them.

Summing up his findings, Mr Moss said that he could not be sure that the stress, anger and the cold contributed to Mrs Gavaghan’s death.

He said: “It is simply impossible for me to conclude that Patricia’s death would not have occurred but for the human failure in relation to the heating system.

“Stress, anger and the cold may have contributed to her death but it cannot be said on the balance of probability. This does not mean they are irrelevant as to how Patricia came to her death.”

The coroner rejected representations that suggested Patricia was killed unlawfully and said it did not reach the lower civil standard let alone the criminal standard.

Mrs Gavaghan’s cause of death was recorded as due to natural causes.