Judge may have died before fire engulfed shed, inquest told

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The Independent Online

New questions were raised about the death of a crown court judge after an inquest heard that the fire that engulfed his garden shed might not have killed him.

Andrew Chubb, 58, died less than an hour after telling his wife, Jennifer, 60, that he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. An initial inquest ruled that he died accidentally. But yesterday, a new inquest heard that the post-mortem examination performed in 2001 was unreliable.

After her conclusions were attacked as "insufficient" and "confusing", Dr Charlotte Fisher, the pathologist responsible for the post-mortem, admitted that she could not rule out the possibility that the judge had been dead before an explosion and subsequent fire in his shed. The fact that his hands appeared to have been clasped together during the fire had been "puzzling", she said, but she had not been aware of any suspicious circumstances at the time.

The inquest at Glastonbury Town Hall previously heard how the judge's spurned wife took clothes off a washing line as he burnt in the shed just yards away. She was later arrested on suspicion of murder and perjury, but released without charge.

The judge's mistress of two years, Kerry Sparrow, a 38-year-old legal executive, successfully challenged the original 2001 inquest, arguing that the police investigation was flawed and there was "a lack of sufficient inquiry".

Ms Sparrow walked out of the inquest yesterday as she was being questioned about her initial statement, which she claimed had been "bullied" out of her by officers and was untrue. "I did sign it," she told the coroner, Sheriff Payne. "But I didn't read it because I was so heavily tranquillised." Jason Beer, representing Avon and Somerset Police, said he was surprised by the allegations.

Earlier, she had explained how she met the judge in 1995 or 1996, but the relationship only really began four years later. "It was after only a couple of days that I very quickly fell in love with him and that feeling was mutual and he fell in love with me," she said. She added that the judge insisted his marriage was dead, claiming his wife had had two affairs and that he had been depressed. "I never put any pressure on Andrew to get a divorce. I did say to Andrew that I loved him very much and didn't want to lose respect for him because he was so depressed at being in a loveless marriage," she said.

Becoming tearful and insisting she felt "disloyal" for exposing her lover's secrets, Ms Sparrow left the room. Twenty minutes later she returned to the inquest and told the coroner that the judge had informed his wife of the affair several weeks before his death. "I do not believe Andrew died accidentally, or by his own hand," she continued.

Earlier, Dr Hugh White, a forensic pathologist for the Home Office, told the new inquest that the original post-mortem results "did not make sense". He said: "While it is possible that he has, as Dr Fisher concluded, died of burning, I feel there is insufficient information in her post-mortem report to find this conclusion. I would therefore disagree with her cause of death and find that her conclusion should have been unascertained."

Dr White also questioned why the judge was unable to escape the shed at his home near Chard, Somerset, adding: "There were a few moments before the explosion and the shed door was ajar."

Dr Fisher told the inquest: "I cannot rule out another cause of death [other than accident], or that he was dead prior to the fire."

The inquest continues.