Retired test technician James Fox told police he intended to kill himself when he doused himself in petrol and set it on fire, an inquest heard.

On the morning of June 15, 2012, 73-year-old Mr Fox left his bungalow, Millstones in East Grafton, with no explanation and returned without his wife, Shirley, realising.

She then heard two loud yells and went to her garage, where she saw her husband of 34 years in flames.

She said: “I was just horrified at what I saw. He was puffing as if he was blowing smoke out of his face and he was waving his arms to get me out of his path. He came out of the door and fell down onto the lawn.”

PC Teresa Herbert attended and spoke to Mr Fox while he was lying on the grass. She said: “I asked him what had happened and he said ‘I poured petrol over myself, I tried to kill myself’.

“I didn’t hear him clearly the first time so I asked him again. He was calm and not in any pain.”

Mr Fox was airlifted to Southampton University Hospital, where he died from full thickness burns to the entirety of his body excluding his feet.

Mr and Mrs Fox had owned a dog named Tilly for five months but in the days leading up to his death they decided to return her to the Dog’s Trust because she did not fit into their lifestyle.

Mrs Fox said: “He said that if we had to do that it would break his heart.”

But she said she could not imagine that her husband would commit suicide.

She said: “I didn’t have a clue that he’d have anything like that on his mind, he was strong and I can’t imagine he’d do a thing like that.

“He was a very spontaneous person in his actions, he’d never sit and think about things long enough to decide whether it was right to do it.”

On Monday at Salisbury Coroner’s Court, Assistant Deputy Coroner for Wiltshire David Coward recorded an open verdict.

He said: “Whilst I’m sure that his death was caused by a deliberate act by him, I am not sure that at all times he intended to take his own life.

“He had not given any indication he intended to take his own life previously and did not leave a suicide note.”