Woman drowned in cesspit, rules coroner

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A Milden woman who drowned in a cesspit in her garden may have fallen through a rusty manhole cover, an inquest heard.

Patricia Barden, 77, was found dead at her home in Boxford Road on July 3 last year.

An inquest in Bury St Edmunds on Thursday heard that family members had become concerned for the wellbeing of Mrs Barden, a widower who had lived in Milden for 26 years, as they were unable to contact her after she had spoken to her step-granddaughter’s cousin on June 28.

Detective Inspector David Giles from Suffolk Police said officers were called at 1am on July 2 and went to Mrs Barden’s home to find the doors locked and no sign of any trouble. Mrs Barden’s step-granddaughter, Charlotte Rush, 30, had driven up from Kent and let them in to check the house and gardens.

“An officer noticed an open manhole and, with the use of a torchlight, saw what was believed to be a body in the bottom of the pit, in the water,” said Mr Giles.

The 14-foot deep pit was around a third-full of fluid.

Mr Giles said: “We concluded that somehow she had fallen in. The access to the cesspit was heavily corroded.”

The surrounding brickwork and concrete had become damaged to the point where it could barely support the weight of the metal cover, said Mr Giles.

“I think at some point she stood on the cover and it has given way as there is no strength there,” he said.

A pair of shoes were found next to the manhole and officers had discussed whether she had taken them off due to sore feet or had thrown them out after she had fallen in to attract attention if anyone came looking for her, the inquest heard.

“If you had gone in there, you wouldn’t have been able to get out without any assistance,” said Mr Giles.

The fire service removed Mrs Barden’s body on July 3 and she was pronounced dead by a paramedic.

“We will never know exactly the day that she fell or how long she was in there,” said Mr Giles.

Reading Miss Rush’s evidence, Dr Dan Sharpeston, assistant deputy coroner, said: “Her step-grandmother was an active person who drove to local towns and had a nice life.

“She’d had deep vein thrombosis in 1999, causing her to have one foot bigger than the other, meaning she was often uncomfortable in shoes.

“Her mind had been getting forgetful in the last year.”

Shopping receipts indicated she had been to Tesco in Sudbury and a garden centre on June 27.

“As part of her morning routine, she would get up at 7.30am and have a walk round the garden or sit and have a cup of tea outside,” said Dr Sharpeston.

An inspection by Colin Stiff, who works for Greenwoods Waste Disposal, found the cesspit had not been cleaned for 10 years. “The metal cover and brickwork was in a poor state, which Mr Stiff described as a death trap,” said Dr Sharpeston.

A post-mortem examination stated the cause of death was drowning.

Dr Sharpeston said he believed Mrs Barden had fallen into the cesspit through the corroded cover on either June 29 or 30, having removed her shoes due to discomfort.

“Mrs Barden fell into the cesspit and we have heard there was no feasible way of getting out. Tragically, she drowned,” said Dr Sharpeston, who recorded a verdict of accidental death by drowning.