Dixon's Chimney inquest: Grandfather died after boot got caught on ladder at top of 280ft tower

Robert Philip Longcake, known as Phil, had been troubled by a police decision not to prosecute allegations of historical sexual abuse

Dixon's Chimney
Rescue services tried to reach Phi Longcake who became stuck at the top of Dixon's Chimney in Cumbria Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

A grandfather died after becoming stuck upside down in freezing conditions at the top of a 280-foot chimney, his inquest has heard.

Robert Philip Longcake, known as Phil, had been troubled by a police decision not to prosecute allegations of historical sexual abuse in the months leading up to him climbing Dixon's Chimney in Carlisle at 5.40pm on October 27 last year, the inquest heard on Monday.

But, coroner Dr Nicholas Shaw said he could not be certain if the 53-year-old had attempted to jump or had changed his mind at the top of the chimney when his boot became caught on a ladder.

He said: "He deliberately placed himself in a position of extreme peril with the intent of taking his own life but it is uncertain whether he took the ultimate step or he slipped and fell accidentally."

Mr Longcake, a crematorium officer from Carlisle, was brought down from the building at 4.40pm on October 28, almost 24 hours after he began to climb it, and pronounced dead shortly after.

His children Robert and Laura and brother John attended the hearing at Cumbria House, Carlisle, but his widow Andrea, who the court heard was still struggling to come to terms with his death and lost her father last week, was not present.

In a statement, Mrs Longcake said her husband started what seemed to be a mid-life crisis in April last year and spoke to police about historical sexual abuse in August.

She said he moved out of the family home on October 19 after she discovered he was having an affair with Heather Wilson, who attended the hearing.

Mr Longcake had attempted suicide in August and earlier in October, she said.

She said: "Phil was a good man, a good husband, a good father and a good grandfather who never put a foot wrong until this year."

Pc Andrea Williams told the court there had not been enough evidence to proceed with Mr Longcake's allegations of abuse.

She said: "Quite understandably he was upset with the decision."

The coroner said Mr Longcake had been "troubled so greatly" by the abuse.

He added: "The fact it could not be pursued would seem to have hit him so hard."

Pc Williams said CCTV showed Mr Longcake walking with ladders towards Dixon's Chimney shortly after 5.30pm on October 27 and then climbing the structure.

Police were contacted at about 2.15am by Royal Mail worker Michael Swinglehurst, who was on shift at the nearby sorting office and heard groaning noises but did not know where they were coming from.

The court heard police, firefighters, mountain rescue teams and the Coastguard were involved with the operation to try and rescue Mr Longcake, who was hanging upside down from the ladder at the top of the chimney in freezing temperatures.

Inspector Craig Lory said the plan was initially to use a helicopter to rescue Mr Longcake, but it caused a strong down draft and the plan was aborted when they realised how precariously he was attached to the building.

He said: "The top prong of the ladder was actually inserted in his boot and that was all that was holding him up."

A 90-metre tall cherry picker was brought to the scene from Glasgow and arrived at 2pm.

Ladders were installed to the chimney from the cherry picker and firefighters climbed up, on the opposite side to Mr Longcake, and were able to secure a harness and allow him to be lowered down, the inquest was told.

Recording a narrative verdict, Dr Shaw said it was likely Mr Longcake died at about 8am.

His cause of death was recorded as hypothermia and cerebral swelling due to inverted suspension.