Burglary 'caused OAP's heart attack'

THE death of a frail pensioner just hours after she fell victim to bogus callers at her home was “almost certainly” caused by the burglary, an inquest.

James Hore

THE death of a frail pensioner just hours after she fell victim to bogus callers at her home was “almost certainly” caused by the burglary, an inquest.

Thelma Avis, a 90-year-old widow, collapsed and died of heart failure four hours after callous burglars conned their way into her Colchester home and stole �1,000.

A coroner yesterday ruled it was “likely” the death had been brought on as a result of the stress of the burglary.


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Mrs Avis, who lived alone and used a walking frame, opened the door of her home in Barnhall Avenue at about 5.30pm to a man claiming to be from the gas board investigating a leak, Chelmsford Coroner's Court.

Coroner's officer Ria Hill said: “She had been housebound for two years and had a heart attack in 1999. She had been diagnosed with angina in 2001.

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“Between 5.30pm and 6pm on July 4, 2003, she opened the front door to a man who stated he was from the gas board and needed to come in because a gas pipe had burst in the road.

“He was very insistent. He entered without being invited.”

The man refused to show ID and spent 25 minutes in the house before Mrs Avis called one of her sons. He fled while she was on the phone, the court heard.

Mrs Hill continued: “Her sons discovered a considerable amount of money had been taken and it caused Mrs Avis considerable stress and anguish.”

Detectives were called to the house where Mrs Avis, supported by her two sons, was able to tell them what happened and describe the thief, police revealed. It was found �1,000 had been taken from the property.

The officers left at 8.30pm but soon after that Mrs Avis's health took a turn for the worse.

Mrs Hill said: “Between 9.30pm and 10pm, Mrs Avis used her angina spray, she was shaking and dizzy. She had a collapse in the chair.”

An ambulance crew were called to the house but despite attempts to revive her, she was pronounced dead.

A post mortem recorded the cause of death was coronary heart disease.

The coroner's officer told the court that the pathologist said the death could have happened at any time, but “the events that night would have caused more exertion on her heart and clearly overwhelmed her”.

Professor Roger Hall added he was “almost certain” the burglary “is what precipitated her death”.

The court heard a murder inquiry was launched into her death but no-one had ever been charged with the burglary or Mrs Avis' death.

Recording a narrative verdict, Coroner Caroline Beasley Murray said Mrs Avis died of coronary heart disease.

She added: "Thelma Avis suffered from severe heart disease and would have been vulnerable to sudden death at any time due to the development of fatal heart rhythm disturbance.

“At about 6pm on July 4 2003, she was the victim of a burglary at her home address and about three hours later Mrs Avis was taken ill and her death was confirmed at about 10.07pm.

“The close relationship between the two events make it likely that Mrs Avis 's collapse was caused at least in part by the stress of the burglary.

“The contribution would have been more than minimal.”

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