Neighbour: Murder flat gas blast would have killed me

Bill Coventry, neighbour of murder victim John Gray.
Bill Coventry, neighbour of murder victim John Gray.
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The neighbour of a murdered lecturer has spoken of his shock after learning he could have died in a gas explosion following the killing.

Polish national Pawel Rodak was found guilty on Friday of culpable homicide over the death of 64-year-old Roger Gray, below, who had worked at Heriot-Watt University.

A jury decided Rodak, 20, was guilty by majority verdict at the High Court in Livingston after a 13-day trial.

Mr Gray died from massive blood loss and deep wounds which penetrated his heart after he was stabbed 114 times, with the court shown an eight-inch kitchen knife thought to have been used.

His body was found after neighbour Bill Coventry, 78, reported smelling gas from his flat in Merchiston Crescent, Edinburgh, on March 19 last year. Charges that Rodak tried to defeat the ends of justice and endanger life by leaving a lit candle near to escaping gas in Mr Gray’s flat were dropped during the trial.

Mr Coventry admitted he had been left shocked after experts told him the gas blast could have killed him as well.

“I have three daughters and a son and they were just about hysterical because they thought I could have been blown up because my bedroom is just above the kitchen,” he said.

“As the gas man said, the first explosion goes up and whatever gets loosened comes down, so downstairs could have been crushed as well.

“It didn’t hit home at first. I think the shock of Roger’s death at the time did the numbing, like an anaesthetic.

“But the trial made me aware I could have been a dead man if I didn’t wake up early in the morning.

“If I had been one of those old lads that lay in bed until 11 o’clock in the morning it could have been a slightly different outcome because there would have been another five or six hours of gas flooding the house. It would have been five people killed.”

Mr Coventry also paid tribute to Mr Gray, whom he said was a “kind and nice” man.

“Roger moved in about 14 years ago,” he said. “He was the gentlest man, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He abhorred violence.It was so against his character inviting someone like Pawel round to his house.”

It also emerged that Mr Gray had left money in his will to fund an annual prize at Heriot-Watt University.

A spokesman for the university said: “Roger was an outstanding lecturer with over 40 years’ service to Heriot-Watt students and the wider actuarial community. He was a lively and inspiring lecturer, winning teaching awards voted for by students themselves. He is greatly missed by us all.

“It is typical of his concern for students that he made a bequest in his will to fund an annual prize for excellence in statistics.”