Suicide verdict over Shropshire arson trial firefighter
A Shropshire firefighter who was awaiting trial for arson killed himself, a coroner has concluded.
Kingsley Tolley, 37, was found by his friend David Pearson hanged in a wooded area near Neach Hill Farm in Cosford.
Pearson had been accused of arson along with Mr Tolley. Pearson is currently serving a jail sentence of five years and four months for a string of arson offences and was brought from jail to give evidence at the inquest.
Mr Tolley, of Albrighton, died days before court proceedings were scheduled to begin.
The pair were both retained firefighters with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, and Pearson's trial was told they had started the fires in order to claim money for fighting them.
Pearson told the inquest at Shrewsbury Crown Court that he had gone to search for his friend on the afternoon of July 24 after receiving concerned messages from Mr Tolley's partner.
He told the coroner that Mr Tolley had threatened to kill himself on previous occasions.
Pearson said he had driven around until he saw his friend's bike in woods. He said: "I didn't know that area very well. I was just randomly going where he would talk about biking. I was lost really, I didn't know where I was going."
Pearson said he jumped a gate and started to shout for his friend, and found him about 200 to 300 metres into woodland, in a distressed state.
Shropshire coroner John Ellery heard that Pearson had tried to convince Mr Tolley to come with him so they could talk. Pearson told the coroner that he had walked back towards his van expecting Mr Tolley to follow him.
But Mr Tolley did not appear and Pearson said that when he returned he found him dead.
Recording his conclusion of suicide, Mr Ellery said: "I am sure that Mr Tolley did the act that led to his death. I am also sure he intended to kill himself. It cannot have happened by accident."
Mr Ellery said there had had been a number of factors weighing on Mr Tolley's mind, including the upcoming court case, his impending eviction from his home and the breakdown of his relationship with his girlfriend.
Mr Tolley, of Valiant Road, Albrighton, had been accused of being involved in starting five fires – three in Pontesbury where Pearson lived, one in Minsterley and another at Llanbrymair in Powys. The arson attacks hit two cars, a van, a caravan and farm machinery in summer 2014.
During Pearson's trial the court was told that he had encouraged Mr Tolley to set a van at Llanbrynmair alight. The court was also told that Mr Tolley had sent messages to Pearson which included "Copper getting it" – relating to setting fire to a car belonging to a police officer in Pontesbury, and "Sorted" knowing that Pearson had attended the fire.
Pearson was based as a firefighter at Minsterley and Mr Tolley was at Albrighton.
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