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Home Canterbury News Article
A father whose troubled son died in a fireball after being accused of rape has spent the past year trying to clear his name – even though he was never charged.
Factory worker Mark Tennyson Smith, 37, was said to have doused himself in petrol and set himself alight outside the home of his ex-girlfriend in Herne Bay last year.
But his father Lester, 59, believes he was falsely accused and his death was an accident.
Speaking out for the first time, Mr Tennyson Smith senior says he and his wife Lynn, 58, have struggled to come to terms with their son's horrific death, with the rape allegation tarnishing his memory.
The care home maintenance manager, who lives in Ramsgate, said: "At the time he died, he had already been informed by police that no action would be taken against him.
"But it was difficult for him. When he was first accused, he was physically sick. It completely revolted him.
"He was of the view that mud sticks. He packed in his job and cancelled Christmas with us, which was very unlike him.
"He had been in prison before, and was worried he would be sent back. He knew how people accused of sex offences were treated in prison."
On the evening of January 10 last year, Mark went to Alma Road to visit his former partner.
At about 6.30pm, neighbours reported hearing "a deathly scream" before seeing the car engulfed in flames.
Police and fire crews were called, but they were unable to save Mark - who was sat inside the car.
Despite his son's turmoil at being branded a rapist, Mr Tennyson Smith does not believe he wanted to take his own life.
"I think he went to torch the car, but accidentally got some petrol on him. Then he lit a match. It wasn't intentional..." - Lester Tennyson Smith
He said: "I think he went to torch the car, but accidentally got some petrol on him. Then he lit a match. It wasn't intentional."
He said his son had a job interview the following day and was looking forward to moving to a new flat in Barham.
At an inquest in September, coroner Rebecca Cobb said there was not enough evidence to rule Mark had poured petrol on himself to take his own life and recorded an open verdict.
The rape allegations were made in November 2012 and Mark was arrested.
He was informed soon after that no charges would be brought, but Mr Tennyson Smith said his son still struggled with the cloud hanging over him.
He said: "At the time, we weren't aware of how hard he was taking it. We could've helped him, but he wanted to deal with it on his own."
Mr Tennyson Smith remembers the knock on the door from a police officer, who told him there had been "an incident" in Herne Bay involving petrol and that his son was "deceased at the scene".
He said: "It was devastating. I went completely numb and my wife was in shock. It's taken a year to start to come to terms with it."
Since Mark's death, the family have called for a review of the case and submitted freedom of information requests to police in a bid to establish his innocence.
Mr Tennyson Smith added: "All along, we've known he was innocent. There was no doubt in our minds. But it's a relief to get confirmation from the police.
"It has taken over a year, but we are happy that he can now rest in peace as an innocent victim – not a suicidal rapist as previously suggested."
Police confirmed Mark was informed he had been "refused charge" on January 3, 2013 – a week before his death.
The family said Mark's death has left a "huge void" in their lives that nothing could ever replace.
Paying tribute to his son, Mr Tennyson Smith said: "He had a lot of close friends and family who still miss him. He was very well loved.
"We'll remember him as being bubbly and good fun. He had a great sense of humour and was always there to cheer you up. People always wanted him at parties."
Mark was born in south London before moving to Chatham as a teenager. He then moved to Charles Street in Herne Bay, and worked in the factory at Hellyar Plastics until shortly before his death.
He had a 14-year-old son called Jordan and two younger sisters, Nicola and Claire.
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