Judge's death remains a mystery but police refuse to reopen case

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The Independent Online

The mysterious death of a judge killed in a fire in the grounds of his home in Somerset may never be solved after a second inquest failed yesterday to reach a definitive conclusion as to what killed him. Andrew Chubb, 58, died in an explosion and fire in his garden shed in July 2001, an hour after informing his wife of 34 years that he had been having an affair and wanted a divorce.

His mistress, Kerry Sparrow fought a six-year campaign for the new inquest, convinced that her lover's death was neither suicide nor accident. She accused his widow of trapping the judge in a loveless marriage despite her own infidelity.

The five-day hearing at Glastonbury Town Hall heard all about the judge's tangled private life and the inquest was told of contradictory allegations from his wife Jennifer, 60, and from Ms Sparrow, 38.

The judge and his wife, a community nurse and Red Cross volunteer, had kept up appearances for years, the epitome of the solid Middle England couple living with their three children in a farmhouse in Chard, Somerset. In reality he spent his weekdays in Hampshire with Ms Sparrow – a legal secretary and single mother with whom he had started an affair in 1999.

Jennifer Chubb, who was arrested in May 2002 on suspicion of murder and perjury but cleared after the Crown Prosecution Service found no evidence against her, did not attend this week's inquest. Instead, she issued a statement, saying her late husband was desperate to end the affair but was being blackmailed by his mistress, who had threatened to expose him to the press.

The public bitterness and re-examination of the facts appeared yesterday to have been of no avail. The coroner, Sheriff Payne, said the fresh inquiry may have raised more questions than answers and there was not enough evidence to be certain of what caused the fire or to prove if the judge had met his death by accident or suicide. The cause of death remained "unascertained", he added, but stressed he was satisfied there was no third party involved.

In recording his verdict the coroner said: "It has not been possible to establish why Judge Chubb did not escape from the shed when the fire started." He added: "Both the means and the cause of death remain unascertained."

Avon and Somerset Police acknowledged there were shortcomings in the initial inquiry, however said there was "no chance" officers would reopen the case.

Ms Sparrow, who claimed the judge "loathed" his wife was tearful after hearing the verdict. She said: "The coroner has considered all of the available evidence. I will probably never know for sure what happened on the night Andrew died." She added: "Andrew passionately believed in justice and I know that he would feel that I have got justice for him."

The inquest heard how, on the night of Judge Chubb's death in July 2001, his wife had calmly taken down the washing as the shed burnt. She later told neighbours she believed her husband had taken his own life, though friends insisted in court that could never be the case. Police initially treated the blaze as a tragic mishap with officers finding no signs of foul play. The first inquest recorded a verdict of accidental death based on the theory that a spark from his lawn mower might have caused the explosion.

Within 24 hours of the fire, the remains of the shed had been bulldozed. The judge was cremated before a pathologist could determine whether he was dead when the fire started. Mrs Chubb inherited her husband's £1m estate and life assurance before emigrating to Australia.