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Sunday, 31 August 2014

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Woman was 'probably attacked and killed', says Cumbrian coroner

A woman whose body was found in north Cumbrian woods was probably attacked and killed, a coroner has said.

Betty Brown photo
Betty Brown

Robert Chapman today recorded an open verdict following an inquest into the death of Betty Brown.

The deputy coroner for north and west Cumbria said the evidence appeared to indicate an assault which may have had a sexual motive.

Police also said they did not believe Mrs Brown had killed herself.

The hearing had been told she had written a note saying she could not “take any more”.

Mrs Brown, who was missing for eight months before her remains were discovered near Longtown, also had a drink problem and had been prescribed anti-depressants.

But family members said they did not believe she would have killed herself – and police suspected there may have been “third party involvement” in her death.

The inquest began yesterday (Monday) in Carlisle into the unsolved case.

Mrs Brown, 56, went missing from Edinburgh in May 2010. Police have previously said they believe it is likely she was murdered.

Officers in Scotland had been carrying out a missing person inquiry but the investigation took a tragic turn when Mrs Brown’s body was found off the Longtown to Gretna road in January 2011.

She worked in a care home and was a mother of three. Her daughter and son-in-law were living in Gretna at the time.

They said she used to visit but would always phone to say she had caught a bus to Longtown, where they would pick her up. They heard nothing from her before her disappearance, the inquest was told.

Police in Edinburgh had broken into Mrs Brown’s flat after she was reported missing. An old diary was found lying open on the kitchen table.

A note read: “To all my family, I sorry but can’t take any more. Been depressed and lonely. Please forgive your mum and sister. All my love.”

Robert Chapman, the deputy coroner for north and west Cumbria, said Mrs Brown had withdrawn cash and it was thought she had got on an Edinburgh to Carlisle bus.

But, he added, this was “a bit hazy”. A man walking his dog found her semi-naked body lying face down on waterlogged ground.

Dr Matthew Lyall, a pathologist, said a post mortem revealed no signs of “trauma” but her body was too badly decomposed to ascertain a cause of death.

Two Aldi bags were found nearby with items including clothing and photographs.

Mrs Brown’s sister, Maureen McLaughlan, gave evidence, saying Mrs Brown – “a very likeable person” – drank alone in her house and had money troubles.

“I think if Betty had intended to kill herself she would have done it in her flat,” she told the inquest. “I don’t think she would have travelled all the way down to Longtown.”

She added: “The last time I spoke to her she was happy."

Mrs Brown’s daughter Sarah Louise Smith, who lived in Gretna at the time, said her mother would “never ever” have just turned up, adding she had no reason to believe she had killed herself.

Pauline Lettice, a supervisor at the care home where Mrs Brown worked, said she had said “she felt like running away sometimes“ and “felt lonely and depressed”.

Pamela McKenzie-Hewitt, who lives near Gretna, said she saw her in the Spar shop in Longtown.

Timothy James Hall, of Longtown, said he remembered seeing Mrs Brown on the Gretna to Longtown road after watching a later TV reconstruction.

She was standing “just staring into the middle of the road”.

In a statement, Geoffrey Muir, of Eastriggs, near Gretna, said he had noticed “a lone female walking on the other side of the road carrying Aldi bags” near the Ministry of Defence site, near Longtown.

He also “noticed a male riding a female’s bike”. Mr Muir drove back shortly afterwards, thinking he would offer her a lift.

“I continued along and I didn’t see either the lady or the male on the bike. I assumed she had been picked up and the cyclist turned off,” he said.

The inquest, being held at The Courts on English Street in Carlisle city centre, continues.

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