When the village store went up in flames, owner Paul Sheriff was at a loss to explain how it had happened. But eventually a little bird told him the truth.
Insurance investigators concluded that a sparrow must have picked up a smouldering cigarette butt and deposited it among the dry twigs of its nest under the eaves.
The resulting conflagration caused £250,000 of damage at Crescent Stores in Leasingham, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire.
Initial investigations found no gas or electrical faults, but 35 cigarette ends were eventually found in various sparrows’ nests in the roof.
Mr Sheriff, 48, a non-smoker, said: ‘It’s a pity really because I like seeing birds around the place but to think one of these pesky sparrows took a cigarette end onto the roof and caused all this damage is amazing.
‘At the end of the day, what is done is done.
It’s a busy shop and people jump out of their cars, drop their cigarette ends on the floor and come in to buy a packet of fags. ‘I don’t know whose cigarette end it was but the chances of it being mine are nil. I suppose that’s something.’ Mr Sheriff, who has owned the business for eight years, said he escaped thanks to a customer who alerted him to the fire.
‘I was serving in the shop when he ran in and told me I had to get out because the shop was on fire.
‘The roof had disappeared and the upstairs flat had gone. I’d only just decorated the flat and everything was fine up there.
‘The fire brigade came out but came to no conclusion about how it started.
… ‘Then the forensic investigator from the insurance company, AXA, told me he had enough evidence to conclude that it was a sparrow that took up a cigarette end into the roof.’
An AXA spokesman said: ‘We believe it’s the first case of its kind we’ve ever had to deal with. We had to bring in a specialist to investigate.
‘I’ve certainly never come across this sort of thing before. It’s strange to think how such a little bird armed with such a small object could cause such chaos.’
‘Then the forensic investigator from the insurance company, AXA, told me he had enough evidence to conclude that it was a sparrow that took up a cigarette end into the roof.’
One more way a smoker could kill you.