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Inquest hears man who set himself on fire in Lowestoft struggled with change in benefits

PUBLISHED: 17:44 27 April 2017 | UPDATED: 23:30 28 April 2017

Emergency services at the scene in London Road North, Lowestoft

Emergency services at the scene in London Road North, Lowestoft


The niece of a 67-year-old man who died from severe burns after setting himself on fire in Suffolk has described him as a “loving person” who struggled to cope with a change in his benefits.

Retired builder Peter Sherwood died in Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, which has a specialist burns unit, on September 8, 2015, following an incident in Lowestoft town centre four days before.

An inquest in Ipswich today heard Mr Sherwood, of Wesley House, High Street, Lowestoft, had a long history of recurrent depressive disorder and delusional psychosis and had attempted suicide several times in the past.

In a statement read during the hearing, Mr Sherwood’s niece Sarah Wilby said: “I knew he was feeling a bit low the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died. He held me close on the sofa and told me he loved me.

“He was a loving person and had a great sense of humour.

“He was angry at many things in life, but could put a good front on.

“I loved him very much and miss him dreadfully.”

Ms Wilby said she was “shocked” at the “drastic” way her uncle took his own life.

She added: “He seemed to want to make some kind of a statement, but I don’t know what.”

During the inquest Ms Wilby said Mr Sherwood was on Disability Living Allowance but not long before his death he received a letter informing him he needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payment, which she believes contributed to his low mood at that time.

She said: “I personally think quite an underlying cause of his anger was the change in benefits.

“Knowing Peter as we did that would have had a huge impact on him.”

Paul Anderson, a community support worker for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said Mr Sherwood had claimed the Government was trying to take money off him.

Emergency services were called to London Road North around 5.10pm on September 4, 2015.

Coroner Peter Dean read statements from witnesses, who described seeing Mr Sherwood spraying something on the pavement starting with the letter ‘h’ with an aerosol can.

The inquest heard passer-by William Groves asked Mr Sherwood, who was raised in Halesworth and had an estranged daughter, if he was a street artist, to which he replied “no, I’m a suicide artist”.

Mr Sherwood then poured liquid over his head and set himself on fire using a lighter.

Members of the public tried to douse the flames by first throwing their jackets onto Mr Sherwood, and then using a fire extinguisher from a nearby shop.

Police at the scene reported Mr Sherwood had muttered the word “humanity” to them a couple of times after the incident.

Mr Sherwood suffered from a condition called tardive dyskinesia, which meant his mouth would sometimes jerk involuntarily. It is a side-effect of taking anti-psychotic medications.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Lucinda Stapleton, care coordinator from the Waveney Recovery Team, said this had affected Mr Sherwood’s self-confidence as he was worried people were laughing and staring at him when he left the house.

She added: “Peter would try to speak to people in the town but Peter told me people would be scared of him and pull children away as if he was something to be feared.”

On September 4, 2015, Mr Sherwood was visited at home by the community mental health team and he expressed plans to end his life.

An urgent appointment was made for Mr Sherwood to see a psychiatrist the following week, but it was too late.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has since updated its criteria of when patients should be referred to the 24-hour crisis team, following its routine investigation into Mr Sherwood’s death.

The medical cause of death was given as 75% non-survivable full thickness burns, and mental health concerns.

Dr Dean gave his conclusion as suicide.

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