A retired dad-of-three has spoken of his horror after a coal fire exploded just feet from where he sat on Christmas Day.
Graham Coupland says he still has nightmares about the blast in his then council house which put his daughter in hospital for weeks and left him covered in hot coal and psychologically scarred.
Such was the ferocity of the explosion that his double glazed windows were shattered and every room in his house was covered in soot.
Yet three years on, nobody has taken the blame for the dangerous boiler with the council and the contractor still arguing over liability.
It was the first time in 10 months that the retired salesman had used the fire after having central heating installed earlier in the year.
He said: “I thought it would be a nice touch to get the fire on. It was 3pm and dinner was almost ready and we were having a glass of wine,” he added.
“All of a sudden there was a big bang. The explosion was so severe it almost blew my daughter’s foot off.”
Mr Coupland had been sat on his sofa with his daughter and pet dog when the blast took place. Neither of them knew what had happened.
The least a council house tenant can expect from their landlord is that the appliances they install are safe and that proper checks are made.
“All of a sudden we were covered in debris – hot coal, hot wood, glass,” he added.
“The debris went through the lounge window shattering the double glazing. I thought at first that somebody had put a brick through the window as I was covered in shards of glass but the whole room filled up with soot and smoke. The first thing I did was get my daughter out then I came back for my dog.
“Initially after, I struggled to breathe. I suppose it was because I was in there so long without any equipment as, when the fire service came in, they had masks on.”
Graham suffered cuts, burns and bruises in the explosion and still has flashbacks but his daughter was admitted to hospital for several weeks after breaking her ankle and foot. She also needed plastic surgery.
He added: “She had pins put in her foot and still struggles with it now. She can’t put full weight on it. It’s affected her psychologically too, she’s more nervous than she ever was and she doesn’t like to come to the house because it reminds her of the explosion which is obviously a real shame.
“My anxiety and depression has also worsened. I do manage to sleep but for only one or two hours at a time, I can’t get into a deep sleep.”
Mr Coupland later learned that the explosion had occurred because of a faulty back boiler.
He added: “I was living in a council house. The council had some money available from a European grant to improve fuel efficiency in tenant’s homes.
“I didn’t have gas so contractors came in and installed electric central heating. The back boiler was behind the coal fire - you’d light the fire and it would automatically heat up the boiler. The original cylinder, in the airing cupboard, was removed and they capped the boiler but they didn’t decommission it or drain the water.
“I didn’t know the back boiler was still in situ so I lit the fire not realising there was still water in the boiler behind it. What happened then was kind of like what would happen with a kettle if you boiled it with the spout blocked – it heated up and the steam had nowhere to go and eventually it just exploded.”
Despite the ordeal, Graham, from Wolvey, Leicestershire, is keen to stress that accidents happen and he appreciates that nobody intended to cause him any harm.
However, the 65-year-old added: “It’s a genuine mistake but they didn’t do the right checks. In fact, they didn’t do any checks. The contractor capped two pipes not realising it was connected to the back boiler.
“Rugby Borough Council blame the contractors – Renewable Micro Solutions - and they blame the council so nobody will accept liability for the accident.
“All I want to happen is to be reimbursed for my losses. The council redecorated my house and fitted new carpets but most of my belongings were destroyed - my TV, suite, quilt, other furniture. I had to scrounge furniture and borrow off my children. My main question is why has it taken over three years to sort it out?”
Nigel Smith, a personal injury specialist at law firm Slater and Gordon, who is representing Mr Coupland in his legal case said: “The least a council house tenant can expect from their landlord is that the appliances they install are safe and that proper checks are made.
“It is difficult to imagine how upsetting this has been for Graham. Three years on he continues to suffer with flashbacks and disturbed sleep and his daughter is still unable to walk properly yet the case still hasn’t been settled.
“We are determined to help Mr Coupland get to the bottom of what has happened and find out who is to blame for this potentially life-threatening accident.”