Site worker on council estate may have died in ‘shake and bake’ drugs explosion, inquest told
Camden faces question over how engineer was appointed to the job
13 August, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
The fire at Aspen House in February
A DEMOLITION engineer killed in a blaze at an empty block of council flats may have accidentally started the fire while cooking up crystal meth, an inquest has heard.
Camden Council has now been asked to explain what steps were taken to ensure Daniel Coleman, 42, was fit for work before and during his time working at the site – Aspen House.
The inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court was told he may have been squatting in the block in Maitland Park Villas, Chalk Farm, outside the hours he was working managing the empty building for the council prior to its demolition.
Fire brigade officials who investigated the incident said they found evidence Mr Coleman may have been using Class A drugs and attempting a process known as “shake and bake” to create crystal meth, or meth-amphetamine.
The brigade was called to an explosion at the block in February and later recovered his body.
Investigator Darren Woodhouse told the inquest on Tuesday that he believed it had been caused by a mixture of volatile chemicals. He said a severe explosion blew a window panel out and said he believed it was “likely” to have been caused by “shake and bake”.
“We had not come across it previously,” said Mr Woodhouse. “The gist of it is people mix up materials in a plastic bottle, shake it and it creates crystal meth. It is volatile and it can cause an explosion and intense burning.”
He said his theory was based on circumstantial evidence as much of the room he was found in had been destroyed.
“We went through the debris. We found lithium battery cells. Shake and bake ingredients need lithium, which you get from battery cells,” Mr Woodhouse told the hearing.
Coroner Mary Hassell adjourned the inquest for two weeks, telling the court she wanted to hear evidence from four security guards who worked with Mr Coleman and could help establish whether or not he had been secretly living in the seven-storey block.
The building is due to be demolished as part of the Town Hall’s Community Investment Programme.
The inquest heard that Mr Coleman had earned a first-class honours degree in engineering and was an experienced construction worker, before having periods of homelessness.
One of his friends, Elias Michaelides, said in a written statement that Mr Coleman had previously lived on demolition sites he was working on and had told him he was squatting in Maitland Park Villas.
He added that months before Mr Coleman’s death, he suffered an accident which badly burned his face and tongue.
Barrister Nicholas Ostrowski, representing Camden Council, asked that Mr Michaelides’s evidence should not be submitted as they believed it was not relevant – and that “elements were simply incorrect”.
Security officer John O’Brien, who works for contractors First Response at Aspen House, said he did not believe Mr Coleman could have been living on the site without being noticed.
He added: “He was a nice, happy bloke. We always got on. I never asked him where he lived. I didn’t think he lived there – but I didn’t work nights. If he had, we would have known. He would come to work on a pushbike. I’d see him arrive and we would have a cup of tea together.”
The New Journal’s front page in February
The inquest heard how Mr Coleman had access to an alarm and keys to the block. Mr O’Brien said: “Dan was in and out of the flats three times a day. He shouldn’t have had any reason to go in, but it was not my place to ask why.”
Toxicologist Lyndsey Ward said Mr Coleman had a mix of ketamine and crystal meth in his bloodstream at the time of his death.
Giving evidence, Camden Council’s head of safer homes, Dominic Johnson, said rules meant no one was permitted to live in the block, and that the site had alarms, fencing and shutters on the ground floor.
He said security guards confirmed no one had been living in the flats.
But Mr Coleman’s former partner, Louisa Thompson, asked the inquest to consider how the Town Hall checked Mr Coleman’s employment history and address, and questioned how a senior manager on a construction site could have Class A drugs in their bloodstream “without anyone noticing”.
Ms Hassell asked Mr Johnson what steps where taken to ensure Mr Coleman was fit to work.
Mr Johnson replied: “We did standard employment checks. He had extensive experience on demolitions. Mr Coleman was seen in a good light. His experience was above and beyond what you would require. There was a strong working relationship [and] no issues with work or discipline.”