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Ill OAP died in unfenced moat

PUBLISHED: 10:27 04 December 2002 | UPDATED: 13:08 03 March 2010

AN ELDERLY schizophrenic woman who was found dead in a residential home moat probably fell in after suffering from an irregular heartbeat, an inquest heard.

AN ELDERLY schizophrenic woman who was found dead in a residential home moat probably fell in after suffering from an irregular heartbeat, an inquest heard.

An investigation was launched by care authorities after Barbara Hill, 70, was found dead in the moat around Westhorpe Hall residential home, in the village near Stowmarket, after going missing on July 26.

An inquest in Bury St Edmunds heard how Mrs Hill, who was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia in the early 1970s, was moved to the home in December 2001, despite her family's concerns about the moat.

A subsequent investigation by Mid Suffolk District Council and the National Standards Care Commission into the home, which has since erected a fence around the inside of the moat, found that Mrs Hall would probably have been better suited to a nursing home where she could have received more specialised care.

A regular smoker, Mrs Hill was found to be missing by a carer about 4pm, after she did not come back from the grounds where she had gone for a cigarette.

A massive search of the house, grounds and nearby roads was then launched. She was eventually discovered around 40 minutes later face-down in the moat which surrounds the residential home, which has 20 residents.

The last person to see her was Janas Bloss, a part-time carer, who saw her around 3pm, standing on the bridge across the moat, apparently looking at the ducks.

Patricia Hansen, Mrs Hill's sister, added that she had tried to drown herself before, in a water butt, about three or four years ago.

"I was concerned with my sister going there," she added. "We confronted the manager and he said she would be watched."

However, Home Office pathologist Dr Ian Hill, who carried out a post mortem on Mrs Hill, said the most likely explanation was not that she threw herself into the moat but fell in after suffering from an irregular heartbeat.

"I think she fell in the water and with her heart problem, it was the shock that killed her," he said.

Stuart Jackson, environmental health officer for Mid Suffolk District Council, investigated the case and said he was struck by the lack of a fence around the moat and added: "I don't think she was in the right home. It is registered for residential care but she required nursing care."

Kevin Hunt, owner of Westhorpe Hall, accepted in hindsight that it was an inappropriate place for Mrs Hill to be but she had chosen where she wanted to live. He also said that there was now a fence around the moat.

Dr Dean recorded a narrative verdict, as Mrs Hill's case did not fall into the definitions of suicide or natural causes, which reads: "Mrs Hill died having fallen into a moat, the most likely underlying cause for this being her pre-existing cardiac condition."

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