A HEREFORDSHIRE business man committed suicide in a burning furnace, an inquest was told.

William John Bowen, who owned the Pontrilas Garden Centre, was so badly burnt that forsenic scientists could identify him only by the remains of a plaster cast.

The coroner was told that the 48-year-old had recently broken his foot and had used an aerobic step to climb into the open-top incinerator, used to burn garden centre refuse.

Pathologist Dr Frank McGinty said that his body was so badly burnt that it was not possible to take fingerprints. He added that Mr Bowen's skull was fractured, an injury not uncommon with people who died in fires.

His wife Sarah told the Hereford inquest that, although there had been family and domestic issues, Mr Bowen never showed any intention of ending his life. "There was no sign he would do something of that extent," she said.

Mrs Bowen added that she thought it was possible her husband's death in May of this year might have been an accident.

"He used the incinerator at least once a day and sometimes twice. It was pouring with rain and it was very slippy around the yard," she said.

But Coroner David Halpern said: "From the evidence it seems that Mr Bowen would have been well familiar with the safe use of the incinerator. It seems difficult to conceive that he could have got into a position where he could have fallen into it while it was burning."

Mr Bowen, who is survived by his two children, moved to Herefordshire from Nant-oer, near Aberga-venny, to start the Pontrilas Garden Centre, which has been sold to new owners.

Mr Halpern recorded a verdict of suicide.