Inquest Verdict after Couple's Death

6 January 2011, 16:32

An inquest into the deaths of an elderly woman and her husband who died after being charged with her murder has today found she was unlawfully killed and he took his own life after he had been released on bail.

79 year old Alan Thomas gave Winifred Thomas, 77, tablets to make her feel drowsy before pushing her head under water in the bath at the family home.

Retired chartered building surveyor Thomas waited until he was certain she was dead before calling police and telling an operator: ``I've just helped my wife to die.''

The inquest heard that housewife Mrs Thomas had been suffering from arthritis and was unable to use her hands.

Police were told by Thomas that she had attempted suicide several times as she became frustrated at her increasing inability to look after herself.

Thomas told officers: ``You don't know what it's like. I even had to change her sanitary towels. Imagine that.'' He added: ``I wanted to be certain that she wanted to end her life.

``It's not something to enter into lightly. I knew once she had got into the bath that she would not be able to get out and I wouldn't be able to get her out. She knew that as well.''

Emergency services arrived at the couple's home in Deanwood Drive, Rainham, Kent, on May 9 last year and found Mrs Thomas lying face up in the bath.

In a statement read at County Hall, Maidstone, Pc Sarah Lambert said Thomas was sitting in a chair clearly upset with his hands shaking.``He said he loved her,'' the officer said.

A post-mortem examination carried out at the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham by Dr Robert Chapman showed no evidence of acute natural disease that would have contributed to her death.

Bruises found on Mrs Thomas's head could have been caused by her being forcibly pushed under the water, the pathologist added. The cause of death was confirmed as drowning.

Thomas, who had two sons with his wife, was arrested on suspicion of murder and confirmed that he had pushed his wife's head under the water.

Detective Chief Inspector David Chewter, of Kent Police's major crime department, said:

``During interview he confirmed that account both that day and the next day. He said he had lifted her legs up to help lie her flat in the bath.'' No-one else was present at the couple's home when she drowned, he added.

Mr Chewter said Thomas said he had been happy to continue caring for his wife but that she was depressed at being unable to function properly.

Thomas was charged with murder and appeared at Medway Magistrates' Court.

On May 13, he appeared at Crown Court where he was granted conditional bail and later he was allowed to return home when his conditions were varied.

Today Coroner Roger Sykes said he was satisfied Mrs Thomas was unlawfully killed and that her husband took his own life.

The couple's sons, David and Graham Thomas have released a statement.

``The events of recent months have been a tragedy for our whole family.The death of Mum and Dad has been a terrible loss of very loving parents and grandparents. Despite her best efforts, Mum had been increasingly afflicted by her chronic rheumatoid arthritis and its associated ailments and in the six months or so leading up to May her health significantly deteriorated further. We have no doubt that Dad's thoughts were to help to stop this suffering. As a result of the circumstances, Dad found it difficult to cope with what had happened and very sadly made the decision to take his own life.

We accept the coroner's verdicts and would also like to thank him for his kind words. However, in Mum's case, it is unfortunate that the only available legal outcome, that of unlawful killing, does not properly describe or reflect the desperately sad nature of this death. It is our very clear opinion that this was an act of love and was definitely not something that resulted from negligent or criminal behaviour. The fact that Dad felt he could not then go on came as a further devastating blow to us all.''

They added that the couple were devoted to each other throughout their life.

The statement went on: ``They enjoyed dancing and walking, especially in the nearby countryside and the various parks. They greatly valued their independence and were determinedly self-reliant. Mum was a keen and successful follower of natural and complementary medicine before this became fashionable. Dad was a keen gardener and latterly an extensive user of his free bus pass. As the years passed and Mum's illness worsened, Dad increasingly became her full time carer. Despite this, Mum took great pride in her appearance and was immaculate at all times.''

Mr Chewter said: ``This is a tragic case and our thoughts and feelings are with the Thomas family who have been through a difficult time during the last seven months. Throughout this case they have conducted themselves with great dignity and I have the utmost respect for the way in which they have handled a very testing situation.

The family have had the support of Kent Police from the beginning and have been kept up to date with ongoing developments throughout our investigation.  They have asked that they be left in peace to mourn the passing of their loved ones,