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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 18:22 GMT 19:22 UK


Freak accident kills gardener

A businessman drowned in a river after a freak gardening accident, an inquest has heard.

John Lewis's body was found in the River Severn two weeks after he was last seen, pouring liquid from a canister onto a bonfire.

The BBC's Phil Mackie reports: "Seen apparently pouring petrol on bonfire"
His disappearance prompted a major police search after his wife, Patricia, returned home to find a burnt-out lawnmower.

Police found charred clothing leading to the river, near the couple's home in Minsterworth, near Gloucester.

Divers and a helicopter were used in the search for Mr Lewis but it was two weeks before his body, naked apart from his shoes and socks, was found 1.5 miles upstream.

Fire evidence

Gloucester and District Coroner Alan Crickmore said: "I think Mr Lewis lit a bonfire, tried to get it going by putting petrol on it, set his clothes on fire and made his way down to the river then jumped into the water to dowse the flames.

"We know there were some burns on his skin and we know that the cause of death was drowning. He tried to put the flames out by jumping into the river and drowns."

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Sergeant Elwyn Atwood, of Gloucestershire Police, told the inquest there had been a burnt lawnmower, a bonfire and two petrol cans in Mr Lewis's garden.

He also found a fire-damaged jumper and saw damage to the top rung of a gate leading to the river.

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