A 40-year-old man was set alight by a bolt of electricity while police tried to talk him down from the roof of a sub-station.

Richie Powell suffered 85% burns when an arc of current leapt from the station in Spring Gardens, Brighton.

He had called police to say he was going to kill himself following his arrest in a sex assault inquiry which was later dropped.

An inquest jury at Brighton Coroner’s Court yesterday (June 14) heard a statement from Mr Powell’s parents, Colin and Pamela, saying: “We do not believe Richie intended to take his life.”

Mr Powell, who was staying at the William Collier House hostel in North Road, received the massive electric shock on October 25 last year.

On August 22 he had been arrested on suspicion of the attempted rape of a woman who had invited him to her home in Lewes. He denied the allegation.

Mental health worker Marilyn Agar, said Mr Powell went to the Royal Sussex County Hospital on September 19.

He said his arrest had left him “scared what he might do too himself”.

Clearing his name

Ms Agar said: “It was like a slur on his character that he couldn’t handle.”

Detective Sergeant Clare Gill, then of Lewes CID, said the alleged victim refused to be medically examined and later could not be traced for interview.

Towards the end of September police told Mr Powell he would face no further action over the claim.

Mr Powell called The Argus in his fight to clear his name and his story appeared on the front page.

He told his parents he was happy with the article when it came out on October 22.

But probation worker Louise Williams said he later found people had not been persuaded by his public statement. She said she believed he wanted a public apology from the police.

Inspector Dave Robinson, of Sussex Police, was on duty shortly before 4.20am on October 25, when Mr Powell called police threatening to kill himself and saying he had been attacked.

He mentioned The Argus article and demanded to speak to the officer involved in the case.

Engineer called He was then found on a rooftop in the large sub-station in Spring Gardens behind William Collier House.

UK Power Networks sent out an engineer to turn off the electricity, which could not be shut down remotely.

A police negotiator arrived to try to talk Mr Powell down. The engineer arrived at 5.43am.

But at 5.54am, with the station still live, an arc of current hit Mr Powell. Shortly before he had been complaining the ground was shaking.

The electricity set him on fire. He was seen trying to crawl away. Police urged him to roll around to put the flames out.

Firefighters were eventually able to douse the flames.

Mr Powell was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, then to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford.

The inquest was told he was so badly injured the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, which usually deals with Sussex burns patients, could not treat his injuries. He suffered organ failure and died on November 9.

The inquest continues.