A WOMAN from Peterlee who was found dead in a hospital stairwell in America more than two weeks after going missing was not the victim of an attack, a family spokesman has said.
Lynne Spalding, 57, originally from Peterlee, disappeared from her room at San Francisco General Hospital on September 21.
The mother-of-two, who had lived in the US for 23 years, was last seen in bed at 10.15am that day by a nurse.
She was found by a member of the hospital’s engineering staff on a routine check 17 days after she vanished.
Family spokesman David Perry said the coroner had not yet established a cause or time of death but investigators have ruled out foul play.
San Francisco mayor Ed Lee has announced an independent consultant will investigate the hospital’s security and patient safety protocols, the Associated Press reported.
“This should not have happened, we all agree,” Mr Lee said. “And we want to prevent it from ever happening again.”
There is a separate police inquiry into Ms Spalding’s death and an internal investigation of hospital security measures by San Francisco sheriff’s department.
“A thorough independent review is required, and we will do that,” Mr Lee said. “The city is responsible for what happened here.”
Officials said they are investigating how she got on to the outside stairwell, what caused her death and why a search did not locate her sooner.
The hospital and sheriff’s department conducted a search of the premises and Ms Spalding’s friends and relatives spent days scouring the streets of the Californian city with flyers because they were “under the assumption that San Francisco General had been searched and Lynne was not here”.
“Lynne Spalding died alone, in the stairwell, at one of the finest medical institutions in this country,” said Mr Perry.
“I hear that the San Francisco sheriff’s department initiated a search. Well, evidently it wasn’t a very good one. I think there are a lot of questions to be asked.”
Mr Perry told Sky News: “We are grieving, but that grief is leading to an absolute sense that we must find out the truth, not only for Lynne, but to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
He added that Ms Spalding, a marketing and sales expert, had retained her British accent, which was “thick enough to peel the paint off a ship”.
“She was the very best of England and the United States combined,” he said.
“Her loss will be felt greatly, not only in her family but across San Francisco because everyone knew Lynne Spalding here.”
Todd May, the San Francisco General Hospital chief medical officer, said: “What happened at our hospital is horrible.
“We are here to take care of patients, to heal them, to keep them safe. This has shaken us to our core. Our staff is devastated.”
Ms Spalding arrived at the hospital thin and frail with her children worried about her condition.
She was admitted for a bladder or urinary tract infection on September 19 and was reported missing from her room two days later.
Assistant sheriff Paul Miyamoto said: “All of us are committed to learning what happened and ensuring it never happens again.”