Inquest hears of woman's mystery death

By Benedict O'ConnorA FORMER councillor has asked police to confirm that suspicions he murdered his alcoholic partner will not be resurrected.Ann North was found dead in bed at her home in Rought Avenue, Brandon, on January 15, 2003 by her partner Peter Wackett.

By Benedict O'Connor

A FORMER councillor has asked police to confirm that suspicions he murdered his alcoholic partner will not be resurrected.

Ann North was found dead in bed at her home in Rought Avenue, Brandon, on January 15, 2003 by her partner Peter Wackett.

He was then a member of Forest Heath District Council and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of her murder.

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Mr Wackett was later released without charge and an inquest held in Bury St Edmunds yesterday failed to establish the cause of her death.

The former councillor, who used to run the Five Bells pub in Brandon with Ms North, asked police during the inquest why he had been arrested just days after the death, before toxicology reports had been carried out.

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He also asked if police would confirm in writing that the investigation would go no further.

“Bearing in mind you knew about Ann's illness and bearing in mind what I had to go through, could this not have been looked at as an unexplained death?” said Mr Wackett.

“When my bail expired, I got a three-line letter from a senior officer saying the investigation was going no further, but we reserve the right to reopen it. Will I now get a letter saying it will now be closed?”

Detective Sergeant Adrian Randall, of Suffolk police, said: “If we had not dealt with it as a scene of crime, evidence could have been lost.

“We went into it with an open mind. There was a suspicion that an unlawful act may have occurred and, therefore, an inquiry was conducted.”

He added: “I would be quite happy to write a letter now the cause of death has been given as unascertained.”

Mr Wackett told the inquest when he had found Ms North lying face down in bed, he had turned her over and it had been clear that she was dead. He then called 999 from a call box, having “fumbled” attempts to dial on his mobile phone.

Police noticed red marks on Ms North's neck and a cut on her upper lip. Pathologist Dr Michael Heath later found extensive evidence of torn muscles around her spine, bruises on various parts of her body and pinprick spots of blood around her eyes caused by blood vessels bursting.

Dr Nicholas Hunt, another pathologist, hired by Mr Wackett, said of the blood spots: “That can occur in a number of situations.

“One of the situations is if someone has their neck forcibly impressed, such as by manual strangulation. There was no injury I could find in her neck that I could indicate that had happened.”

A toxicologist's report showed Ms North had 462 milligrammes of alcohol in her blood, equivalent to almost six times the legal drink-drive limit, enough to kill someone unused to drink, the inquest heard.

Dr Hunt said that could have inhibited her breathing and caused her to suffocate while lying face down in bed, but he could form no solid basis for a cause of death, although the initial post-mortem examination had given the cause as asphyxia, or suffocation.

The inquest was told Ms North had a history of alcoholism and had twice been admitted to hospital for rehabilitation, but had been found comatose by Mr Wackett two days before her death.

Ms North had also once been admitted to hospital after a suspected suicide attempt by overdose of prescription drugs.

Her GP, Dr Rakesh Raja, told the inquest medical reports had showed Ms North had often complained of being assaulted, on one occasion alleging she had been tied to a chair, and one doctor had described her in his notes as a “battered wife”.

She had also been referred to a community psychiatric nurse because of fears for her psychological state, the inquest heard.

Dr Hunt said her bruising could have been down to her drinking, which inhibits proteins that prevent bruising, and her torn muscles could have been caused by Mr Wackett lifting his partner when she was unconscious through drink.

Greater Suffolk coroner Dr Peter Dean said while asphyxiation was the ultimate cause of death, there was no firm evidence as to what had caused the condition.

He was, therefore, unable to officially ascertain the cause of death and recorded an open verdict.

Following the inquest, a solicitor acting on behalf of Ms North's family said: “The family of Ann North are satisfied with the decision of the coroner, which they believe reflects the lack of positive evidence as to the cause of her death.

“The family have their own suspicions, which remain unallayed, but for now they wish to be left to mourn their loss.”


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