Carl Whalley rigged Clayton-le-Woods home to blow up with him in it, Lancashire coroner rules

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"Let's get the party started" - the final worlds of an IT expert who rigged his house to blow up with him in it

An IT expert who rigged his house to blow up with him in it triggered the explosion with the message, "Let's get the party started". Carl Whalley was killed when his semi-detached dormer bungalow in Clayton-le-Woods near Leyland was destroyed by a giant fireball, an inquest in Preston was told.

The 57-year-old had positioned five wireless smart plugs around the property linked to his computer, according to a joint police and fire brigade investigation. They all went off simultaneously on command, igniting vapour from petrol he had earlier doused around the house.

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But while his family continue to believe someone from outside caused the blaze, trapping him upstairs, Assistant Coroner Janine Wolstenholme decided "on the balance of probabilities" he had taken his own life. She returned a conclusion of "suicide" saying: "The fire followed an explosion that was started deliberately. The source was one or more of the devices set to action at 13:20 hours. An extensive police and fire service investigation found no evidence of any third party involvement."

She said her findings indicated Mr Whalley had started the fire himself and at the time he had "intended his death to be the outcome".

Mr Whalley's family said the conclusion was at odds with how he had been in the months leading up to the explosion - happy, excited about a new computer project he was involved in and keen to finally move house and start afresh following the break-up of his marriage.

Carl Whalley's body was found in the rubble of his home after the fireball.Carl Whalley's body was found in the rubble of his home after the fireball.
Carl Whalley's body was found in the rubble of his home after the fireball.

Brother Dan Whalley said: "His health was excellent and he was looking fitter and better than for 30 years. He had very good skills in IT. He was planning for the future. He was not suicidal and would never take his own life."

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He added there had been at least one message on Facebook saying someone had been seen acting suspiciously outside the house shortly before the fire. But police, he said, had not followed it up.

The inquest took almost two-and-a-half years to come to court after an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into how Lancashire Constabulary responded to Mr Whalley's allegations about a serious long-standing dispute with a neighbour.

During the hearing his father Donald Whalley stormed: "Police are untrustworthy to us - I have no time for the police anymore. Carl had no-one to turn to to help with his dispute."

And later brother Dan told NationalWorld's sister publication, the Lancashire Post: "Carl thought the police weren't taking him seriously enough when he reported the problems. I agree, they should have done more."

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The inquest was told Mr Whalley's house in Kirkby Avenue exploded at around 1.20pm on Friday October 15, 2021. Neighbours said they heard a "loud thump" and saw a plume of black smoke rising above the wreckage of the house. The walls were blown out and the front door and windows were blown onto the front garden. The roof had also collapsed.

The fireball engulfs Carl Whalley's house.The fireball engulfs Carl Whalley's house.
The fireball engulfs Carl Whalley's house.

Neighbour Janine Calderbank said she had just driven up to her home when she heard the explosion and glass splinters were blown across the road. "I was completely shocked by what I saw and I remember thinking 'I hope no-one is in there.'"

Firefighters called to tackle the blaze could not access the wreckage because of the danger of collapse. It was the following day before Mr Whalley's body could be retrieved.

DCI Jill Riley from Lancashire Police's Major Investigation Team told the Coroner she was tasked with heading the investigation into the fatal fire. She gave a timeline of events leading up to the day of the explosion which detailed the sale of Mr Whalley's home which had been ordered by a court following the break-up of his marriage four years earlier. The sale had finally gone through - despite Mr Whalley's continued attempts to delay things - in the days before the explosion.

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On July 21 he had purchased some smart plugs and a week later had got a quote for plywood boards, which it was suggested he intended to use to board up the windows of the property. He had a "to do" list on his phone which included making a will together with other matters including cashing in a pension of around £60,000.

The inquest was also told that on the morning of his death he had visited his dad in Blackburn and left an envelope on the table for his brother Dan. Police later opened it to find a number of personal items including his will, some pin codes and a memory stick.

At 10.28am that morning he had put in a command to Google saying: "Let's get the party started." It was followed at 12:57 with another command to "start the party" for the computer to automatically turn on the devices at 1.20pm and spark the explosion.

An ex-girlfriend of Mr Whalley told police she had talked to him about the impending sale of his house and he told her it had caused him some financial issues. His ex-wife had said he had "constantly made excuses about why it (the house) couldn't and shouldn't be sold". And another ex-partner said the 60-40 split ordered by the court in her favour had upset him because he felt it was unfair.

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The blackened site in Kirkby Avenue where Carl Whalley's house stood.The blackened site in Kirkby Avenue where Carl Whalley's house stood.
The blackened site in Kirkby Avenue where Carl Whalley's house stood.

During their investigation into the explosion the police visited 178 properties and scoured the area for CCTV, dashcam or doorbell video of the scene. The only footage of the house at the time was a doorbell camera on the opposite side of the road, but the house had been partially obscured by a vehicle. 

DCI Riley said that they concluded "there was no evidence of any third party involvement in the starting of the fire or in Mr Whalley's death". She added: "At that point it was no longer a criminal investigation and we switched to helping the Coroner's Office investigate."

A post mortem examination carried out by Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour found Mr Whalley died from smoke inhalation and burns. Dr Armour said the victim had most certainly been alive when the fire began. He had extensive burns and would have died quickly.

There was no evidence of him having been assaulted before the fire started. And toxicology tests showed he had no alcohol or drugs in his body.

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Expert fire investigator Paul Ratcliffe said initially it was suspected the explosion was caused by a gas leak, but that had later been discounted. He revealed that the front door, which had been blown out onto the front garden, had a special letter box flap normally fitted by the fire brigade where there have been previous incidents involving fire.

He said it had been impossible to remove Mr Whalley from the wreckage until the following day because the building was "unstable and unsafe". When they were eventually able to enter the building they found a melted green plastic petrol can behind where the front door would have been. Other items identified by a sniffer dog from other parts of the house were sent for analysis and showed indications of petrol.

The explosion, he said, could have been caused by an electrical arc from a switch, or a relay coming on automatically and igniting petrol vapour. It was impossible to say exactly where in the house it could have sparked.

But he added: "It happened at 13:20, the time a number of devices responded to a command. So it (ignition) could have been provided by one or other based on the timing of the Google 'start the party' (command) to activate."

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Coroner Ms Wolstenholme concluded: "The fire was started deliberately. Vapours from petrol had been heavily doused round the property. The source was one or more of the devices set to action at 13:20 hours 'to get the party started.'"

Outside the court brother Dan said: "We're not surprised with the verdict. It's what we expected. But I'm surprised by how untrustworthy the police have been with this. To us it (the mystery) has not been solved. We're disappointed. There were about 40 different incidents logged by Carl in this dispute yet the police didn't take him seriously.

"There is nothing more we can do now apart from remember Carl for the person he was."

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