Date: 19 Oct 1940
Oliver Victor Hilson died from carbon dioxide poisoning in a cupboard, but it could not be said where the carbon dioxide came from.
The cupboard was otherwise used as an air raid shelter.
He was a newsagent and a confectioner and was found dead in the cupboard on the morning of Saturday 19 October 1940. His post-mortem later revealed, after analysis of his blood, that he had died from asphyxia due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
It was said that since the air raids had started, Oliver Hilson had been in the habit of sleeping in the cupboard.
A youth that was employed by Oliver Hilson at the newsagents as a shop assistant said that he last saw Oliver Hilson alive on the Friday morning when he said that he was in his usual health. He said that when he arrived at the shop the following morning, Saturday 19 October 1940 at about 6.15am he got the papers ready for distribution and said then at about 8.30am the daily maid came to him and said that she had found Oliver Hilson dead in the cupboard.
His wife said that she had evacuated their children three or four weeks earlier to a village near Reading and was living with them there. She said that Oliver Hilson came to visit them on the Sunday 13 October 1940 and later returned to Hounslow on 16 October 1940, at which time she said that he was in splendid health, adding that he had no worries and had been very happy.
When his wife was questioned about the cupboard, she said, 'We all used to sleep there before I took the children into the country. We were not too comfortable, but we all got in there'.
It was heard at the inquest that the cupboard had no window and no chimney and that there was an electric light but no heating. His wife said that when they began to use the cupboard for sleeping in they removed the stock that had been stored there. She said that there was a gas meter in the cupboard but that it was not a slot meter.
When the Coroner asked Oliver Hilson's wife whether she had ever noticed anything peculiar about the cupboard, she said, 'Of course, it used to get stuffy, but when I was there, I had the door ajar a little'. When she was asked whether she had ever smelt gas in the cupboard, she said, 'Only on one occasion'. She also said that she had never felt unwell after sleeping in the cupboard, or had headaches, depression or giddiness.
The post-mortem stated that Oliver Hilson had been a healthy man and that it was thought that his death had been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning which was stated as usually arising from the inhalation of domestic coal gas. The pathologist that examined his blood said that the percentage of carbon monoxide in Oliver Hilson's blood was 60%. However, he said that he could not say whether it was from coal gas poisoning or another source. He said that coal gas was by far the commonest source of carbon monoxide, but that any incomplete combustion of coal, coke or other carbonaceous fuel would give rise to it.
The daily maid that worked at the shop said that she saw Oliver Hilson on the Friday evening at about 6.20pm, 18 October 1940, saying that he was quite well. She said that she arrived the following day at about 8.20am and when she went to turn the gas on at the meter in the cupboard, she found Oliver Hilson inside lying on a bed on the floor looking ill.
She said that when she had gone to the cupboard, she had called out first for Oliver Hilson as usual to turn on the gas at the meter but got no answer. She said that the cupboard door was open about an inch and that the light in there was on which she said was unusual as Oliver Hilson was usually upstairs at about that time. She said that the wireless was switched on inside the cupboard but that it was just 'crackling'.
When the daily maid told the shop assistant, they informed a dentist who lived across the road.
A policeman that went to the newsagents at about 11am on the Saturday morning said that he found Oliver Hilson dead in the cupboard under the stairs. He said that he was in a dressing gown and pyjamas, lying on his back on an improvised bed that was made up of a car seat and the usual bedclothes.
The policeman said that there was no sign of disorder in the cupboard and that he could not say that there was a smell of gas. He said that he could only say that there was a very close, musty smell. He added that there was no ventilation whatever and that if the door was practically closed that there was practically no fresh air getting in there at all.
He said that the main gas tap was still turned off.
The District Inspector for the Gas Light and Coke Company said that he made tests and found that the gas installation at the premises and the service pipes were all perfectly satisfactory. He also noted that the capacity of the cupboard was approximately 175 cubic feet.
However, at his inquest it was heard that there was no evidence as to the source of the poisoning and an open verdict was returned. The Coroner said that the poisoning was sustained while Oliver Hilson was sleeping in the cupboard but that there was insufficient evidence to determine how carbon monoxide came to be inhaled.
After the verdict was delivered, a friend of Oliver Hilson asked the Coroner that a rider be added saying that it definitely could not have been self-inflicted. The Coroner then said that there was no suggestion of self-infliction and that nothing of that sort had been in his mind since the case was first reported to him. He also said that had he not returned an open verdict that he would have recorded on of accidental death if there had been any proof of a leak of gas or anything like that.
The Coroner added that, 'As it is, we cannot find a leak, and it is just a puzzle as to where the carbon monoxide came from'.
see Middlesex Chronicle - Saturday 26 October 1940, p1