Fire officer died after drunken fall down stairs

A fire officer who fell down the stairs after drinking died accidentally, an inquest has heard.

John Drinkwater, of Vancouver Road in Sovereign Harbour, died on June 26 and an inquest into his death was held at Eastbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday afternoon (December 18).

Coroner Alan Craze was told the 46-year-old was found by his partner Sonia Fontyn Hatcher on a tiled floor at the foot of the stairs in the home they shared together just after 6.30am. She explained she had gone to bed at 9pm the night before and found him as she went downstairs the next morning.

The inquest heard Mr Drinkwater had been receiving counselling for post traumatic stress for a couple of years. He was attending the counselling because of incidents he had witnessed through his work as a fire officer in 2006 and 2010.

Ms Fontyn Hatcher said he had been under additional stress more recently after having to reapply for his role in the fire service. She explained he had begun drinking more heavily. It is also thought he was suffering from depression.

Mr Drinkwater had been off work before his death and on June 25 a colleague, Mark Webb, went to visit him at his home.

He said, “The extent of his problems was news to us all.”

Mr Webb said the drinking and depression became ‘obvious’ to him during the visit.

He added, “I felt reassured in that we knew what we were trying to cope with. He seemed more than willing to embrace help and support and we could arrange that for him.”

But Mr Drinkwater was found dead the next day with an alcohol level of 457mcg in 100ml of blood - nearly six times the legal limit for driving.

Mr Craze said Mr Drinkwater was ‘well regarded’ in his career and his death was ‘a complete tragedy’.

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.