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The "Fireman's Wedding" Tragedy page 3

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Conflicting evidence was given by William Edgar Nutton, whose brother was the popular "Auntie." "It seemed to me," he said, "that just before ten o'clock flames appeared on the second and third floors. I was watching my brother on the top of the building at the time. I had had a presentiment that something was going to happen. It was his opinion that the fire did not start on the ground floor.

A somewhat similar story was told by Petty-Officer James Harrow, another spectator. "I saw a fireman light a flare on the first floor," he said. "Then he appeared on the second floor, where he lit another. Finally he lit one on the top. During the time he was lighting them I saw a flash from the bottom, as if powder had ignited, and then I saw flames - from the second floor. Nobody set fire to anything on the ground floor." A "silent explosion" was also seen on the ground floor by another witness, and a government official offered the opinion that it was probably the combustion of the shavings.

There the mystery remained. The Coroner, in his summing up, told the Jury that if they were unable to accept the story of the boy Richards, then it would be almost impossible to put forward another theory. "We are still very much in the dark as to what happened," he said. The Jury retired. They were away for nearly an hour. Their task was a delicate and difficult one, and their verdict, in all the painful circumstances, and in view of the conflicting evidence, was generally accepted as a proper one: "We have come to the conclusion," said the foreman, "that our verdict must be one of misadventure. We are also of the opinion that the occurrence arose from the premature lighting of the fire on the ground floor by some person unknown. We accept the evidence of the boy Richards up to a point, but we do not think there is evidence to show who the person was who lit the fire." They added a rider to the effect that human life should not be risked in such displays in future.

With the consent of the Jury the Coroner amended the verdict to read as follows: "Death from misadventure due to shock from burns received while taking part in a fire-brigade and life-saving demonstration, due to a fire being started by a person or persons unknown."

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