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Photographer and web designer Rich Cottee died of alcohol poisoning before flat fire in Gravesend

By Ed McConnell

A web designer drank himself to death in his flat and was discovered by firefighters after his bed caught fire, an inquest has heard.

Rich Cottee was also a well-known photographer around Gravesend.

His burnt body was found at the ground floor apartment in Parrock Street after a neighbour dialled 999 when she saw smoke billowing from the property on the evening of Sunday, May 13.

Rich Cottee died in May. Picture: Dawn Cox Photographic Artist West Kent Images
Rich Cottee died in May. Picture: Dawn Cox Photographic Artist West Kent Images

Another tenant saw the door was ajar and on spotting Mr Cottee, attempted to extinguish the blaze with buckets of water.

Two other residents had to be taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation but were soon discharged.

At Maidstone's Archbishop's Palace, north west Kent coroner Roger Hatch was told nine vodka bottles and a pile of smoking paraphernalia was found in the 54-year-old's home.

Investigating officer DS Julie Albone said it was apparent the mattress had caught fire after being exposed to a flame, most likely a lit cigarette.

Third party involvement was ruled out.

A post-mortem established due to the almost non-existent levels of carbon in his lungs he had died before or during the early stages of the fire.

The level of alcohol in his blood and urine was five times the drink drive limit and was far higher than a concentration "often associated with death".

The Welcome Sofa project, which would see members of the public pose for photos on a couch, which Mr Cottee worked on, returned in his memory on Sunday
The Welcome Sofa project, which would see members of the public pose for photos on a couch, which Mr Cottee worked on, returned in his memory on Sunday

DS Albone told Mr Hatch she had spoken to neighbours and Mr Cottee's father, Charles, during her inquiries.

Charles told her his son would often abstain from alcohol but would then relapse and "drink himself into a stupor".

The week before the fire he had spoken to him on the phone, he seemed normal but had said he was depressed as he was facing eviction.

Having heard the evidence Mr Hatch extended his sympathy to Mr Cottee's family and recorded a verdict of alcohol-related death.

Speaking after the inquest, 86-year-old Charles, from Chelmsford, Essex, said: "My son was not that open about his life, unfortunately because I lived in Essex and my wife was ill I didn't get to see him too often.

"When I did I would go to his photography exhibitions with him but he had very bad arthritis and couldn't walk too far.

"One thing I didn't know was just how many friends he had in Gravesend.

"He'd lived in the town for more than 10 years and had really made a life for himself down here.

"A lot of his friends from his photography group came to the funeral and provided a lovely wreath shaped like a camera."

  • The Welcome Sofa project, a town-centre art installation Mr Cottee worked on which would see members of the public pose for photos on a couch, pictured above, returned on Sunday in his memory.

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