Widow's relief at inquest judgment

A MUM who hired a private investigator to prove her husband had not committed suicide has spoken of her relief at a coroner's verdict.

James Mustard, 43, was in his car when it caught fire while he was working in North Yorkshire.

Emergency service staff thought the dad-of-two, who died a month later in hospital, had tried to kill himself.

But today his wife Michelle, of Keighley Avenue, Downhill, spoke of her relief after a coroner at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court recorded an open verdict rather than one of suicide.

She said: “I knew it wasn’t suicide – he wasn’t the sort to commit suicide.

“We had just sold the house and were going to buy another one, and he didn’t have any life insurance – if he was going to do anything like that he would have got insurance. He always took care of his family.”

Two firefighters who pulled the 43-year-old caterer out of the smouldering car said he pleaded “Just kill me” as they rescued him.

But Michelle, 41, said they must have been mistaken and believes he was either calling out the name of his daughter, Keeley, 17, or his address.

She said: “When Harrogate hospital rang me up to tell me what had happened, they said they had a man who was very disorientated and he was saying something like Keeley or Keighley.”

Michelle was horrified when she found the police suspected her husband of trying to commit suicide and asked for an adjournment of the inquest.

She hired the 120-per-hour fire investigator Steven Hannaford in an attempt to prove otherwise.

She added: “In his report he said that he had never seen anyone try to commit suicide by setting fire to something in that way.

“He put down that the fire could have been caused by lighters lying round in the car or by a cigarette that hadn’t gone out.”

She added that Mr Hannaford had so admired her for her determination he only charged her the 500 deposit rather than the 2,000 total.

Following the fire, Mr Mustard was taken to Harrogate Hospital and later transferred to the serious burns unit at Pinderfields hospital, Wakefield, where he died on October 15 from septicaemia caused by smoke inhalation.

The mum, who spent the 27 days he survived by his bedside, described her husband as a “gentle giant” and a doting father who was much-loved in the community.

She added: “Everybody loved Jimmy. There were 300 people who turned out for his funeral at Sunderland Crematorium.

“The place was full and they even put people in another room with TV screens but there were still people having to stand outside.”

She said he had suffered from depression 17 years ago after he lost his daughter, father, mother and brother, and been on anti-depressants, but had long since learned to cope.

She said: “He’d been through a lot and had some very tough times – anybody would have been depressed.

“But he got on with things, like people do.”