A “devoted” husband and wife who were found dead with stab wounds following a “ferocious” fire and explosion at their Derbyshire home had talked about how they “would go together” in the lead up their deaths, an inquest today heard.
The “severely burnt” bodies of Simon and Shelley Saxton-Cooper, who had been together for 26 years, were found at their fire ravaged and partially collapsed home on Valley View Road, Riddings, in September last year.
Thirteen months on, an inquest on Monday, November 21 at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court, heard that Mrs Saxton-Cooper, aged 45, was found with 18 stab wounds to her back, shoulder and chest while Mr Saxton-Cooper, aged 50, was found with a single stab wound to his back.
During the inquest it was said that a knife found lodged in Mrs Saxton-Cooper’s chest could have been used to inflict both sets of injuries.
Of the knife wound suffered by Mr Saxton-Cooper, chief forensic pathologist, Professor Guy Rutty, said: “It could have been inflicted by themselves or it could have been inflicted by another.”
It was concluded that Mrs Saxton-Cooper died of stab wounds to the chest and Mr Saxton-Cooper died of burns and smoke inhalation.
Residents on the street, who attended court, described how they were awoken just after 7am on Sunday, September 20 by a “massive bang” which sounded like a “skip being dropped” and how the roof of the detached property had been blown off, windows blown out and one side of the property had collapsed.
One neighbour, Marcus Cope, explained in graphic detail how he saw a person, who he believed to be Mr Saxton-Cooper, in a ”ball of flames” at an upstairs bedroom window. Mr Cope said that Mr Saxton-Cooper was screaming “like a lion” before he then apparently slumped down on his knees and out of view.
The couple, who have no children, had just returned from a “lovely” holiday in Norfolk where they had been celebrating their wedding anniversary early ahead of Christmas.
Throughout the hearing, evidence and statements were presented which told how Mr Saxton-Cooper had been suffering from depression for a number of a years and suffered various mood changes.
It emerged that at the start of 2015, the couple had started showing an interest in spiritualism after Mr Saxton-Cooper had experienced a “calling from god”.
And in the weeks leading up to their deaths, Mr Saxton-Cooper had apparently spoke about suicide to a friend and how him and his wife “would go together”.
Opening the inquest, assistant coroner for Derbyshire, James Newman, addressed the families by saying: “I am sorry for your loss and I am sorry that you have to sit here and talk about the deaths of Simon and Shelley.
“I cannot make it painless. I never forget that this is a personal inquest.
“Today is really about trying to find out what happened on September 20.”
Chief forensic pathologist at East Midlands Pathology Unit, professor Guy Rutty, gave the first evidence of the day and confirmed that both Mr Saxton-Cooper and Mrs Saxton-Cooper were identified by their dental records.
Of the injuries suffered by Mr Saxton-Cooper, Professor Rutty, said: “The deceased body was severely burnt.
“He was found face down at the scene in an area that was damaged by fire.
“There was a fresh injury which was a single stab wound to his lower back on the left hand side.
“The stab wound would not have been significant or life-threatening.
“He had been alive at the beginning or at some part of the fire.
“I concluded that he was alive at the time of an explosion and a fire.”
Of the knife wound suffered by Mr Saxton-Cooper, Professor Rutty, added: “It could have been inflicted by themselves or it could have been inflicted by another.”
Professor Rutty gave the cause of death for Mr Saxton-Cooper as burns and inhalation of smoke.
Professor Rutty then gave evidence as to the injuries of Mrs Saxton-Cooper who also suffered “severe burns”.
“The deceased had been found lying face up on a bed,” Professor Rutty said.
“There were a number of fresh injuries.
“The deceased had suffered 18 insized wounds, the majority of which were stab wounds to the left side of her back, shoulder area and her chest.
“The knife to the chest left of the breast bone pierced through the heart.
“She suffered significant traumas to the organs.
“She was not alive at the time of the fire.”
Professor Rutty gave Mrs Saxton-Cooper’s cause of death as stab wounds to chest.
A statement was then read out on behalf of Mrs Saxton-Cooper’s dad, Malcolm Street, a retired fitter.
In it he explained how the couple first met when they were 18 and who seemed like a happy couple who never argued.
“Simon had become more reclusive but that is not something that Shelley saw and she was happy with him,” his statement said.
The statement went on to say that Mr Saxton-Cooper “had found god” and that him and his wife started going to Belper Spiritualist Church.
A statement was also read out on behalf of Mr Street’s wife, Jean, who described Simon as a “lovely, quiet lad” who had been taking anti-depressants and whose mood would change often.
“They loved for one another,” Mrs Street’s statement said.
“I took consolation that they were together because I didn’t think one could live without the other.”
“Simon and Shelley just seemed very happy together.”
The inquest also heard from neighbour Marcus Cope, who was getting into his vehicle when he heard the explosion and was first on the scene.
“I went out of the house at about 7.25am when I heard a loud crashing.
“I spun around and I heard an explosion and that’s when the window came out.
“A second later I heard a screaming noise, like a lion roaring.
“There was no window and that’s when I saw Simon, but I could not make out any features.”
Mr Cope added: “He was there for a couple of seconds creaming and then he stopped screaming and then sort of fell down and then I did not seen him after that.
“The only way I could tell it was a male was because of the pitch of the screaming.
“I would say that me hearing the crash to Simon screaming, it was about ten seconds.”
Fellow neighbour, Paul Archer, who is a firefighter at East Midlands Airport, told the inquest how he managed to get into the house using some of his old fire safety equipment and a set of keys which Mr Street provided.
“I saw massive flames and three-quarters of upstairs had fell down,” Mr Archer said.
“When I go into the property there was a smell of something like accelerant.
“I got down on my hands and knees and made it to the top of the stairs.
“I could make out a bedroom but I could not see if anybody was there.
“I then heard fire engine noise and thought the situation was beyond me.”
The coroner then read a statement from Mr Saxton Cooper’s mum, Faye Cooper.
“They were very close and loved being around each other,” her statement said.
“They spent a lot of time together walking the dog and visiting garden centres.”
Her statement said that Simon has become “disillusioned” with his job as a plumber and how he become “subdued” and “depressed”.
She said that the couple had become interested in spiritualism and there was even talk of them trying for a baby which she says she found “odd”.
An account from a friend of the couple, Julie Valence, said in her statement that Mr Saxton-Cooper had started referring to events “in the past” and that he had been “sat with dead relatives”.
Evidence was then given from friends of Mr and Mrs Saxton-Cooper, Vanessa and Paul Swanbrough.
Mr Swanbrough said: “Simon and Shelley always had big plans.
“They had an idealistic lifestyle which could never come to fruition.
“Simon was extremely disillusioned in life.
“At one point he said that he was going to make me better. He said that he was going to use his heeling powers to make me better.”
Mrs Swanbrough said: “Looking back now we did not see certain signs and we did not look into it.
“Simon was telling me that he could he could see spirits in my property and that there was spirits above my head.”
Concluding day one of the inquest, assistant coroner for Derbyshire, James Newman, told the families: “This cannot have been be an easy day. The great depth in detail is not to cause distress, it is to get a picture of Simon and Shelley. I am not pre-judging the conclusion I am going to reach.”