A POPULAR teacher and Guide leader drowned in her shallow pond after being pinned underwater by a garden ornament.
In a freak accident, Ann Newton, 58, tripped and was dragged face-down by a carved tree trunk which hooked on to her blouse as she went outside to feed the birds.
An inquest heard how the pond at her home in Thirkeld Place, Penshaw, was just four feet by four feet and only one-and-a-half feet deep.
Her devastated partner, Norman Lunn, said: “It’s such a bizarre death. It has broken my heart.”
Miss Newton, a former teacher at Pelton Roseberry School, was pronounced dead after being found face-down in the back garden pond.
Grief-stricken Mr Lunn told how he struggled in vein to save her against the weight of the sculpture.
He bought the artefact – which has spooky eyes carved into it – as a souvenir in Scotland and now plans to put it back in place in his garden.
“Nobody liked it. People kept telling me to get rid of it. If I had done she might have got out of the water,” he said.
Mr Lunn had gone for a walk on the afternoon of February 3, leaving his partner at home doing a crossword.
When he returned he found an hour later he found Miss Newton gone, and was met with the horrific scene when he looked out into the garden.
“She must have gone out to fill the bird feeder and slipped,” he said.
“Her slippers were in the grass. She must have been kicking to try and get out. I tried to pull her out, but I couldn’t
“I realised the wooden block was attached to her. When I did get her out, I phoned for an ambulance.
“It arrived in seven minutes but I realised from the blue colour they wouldn’t be able to bring her round.”
Mr Lunn said his partner, who had moved in with him only six months earlier, must have hit the block as she fell. It shattered, with the large chunk hooking on to her and dragging her further down into the water.
Dr Hugh Cochrane, a pathologist at Sunderland Royal Hospital, found little evidence to determine a cause of death during yesterday’s inquest at the Regus Centre in Doxford Park.
He said Miss Newton had abrasions to her legs, and chest had injuries which could be linked to resuscitation attempts.
He said drowning was difficult to determine under postmortem examinations, but it was probably the cause of death on the balance of probabilities.
Dr Cochrane said toxicology tests found 186mg of alcohol per 100ml of Miss Newton’s blood – just over twice the drink-drive limit of 80mg per 100ml.
He said this was not a large amount, but enough to cause an impairment. Mr Lunn said his partner must have had a gin and tonic while he was out.
Detective Sergeant Les Goodliff of Sunderland CID, based at Houghton Police Station, confirmed neither Miss Newton nor Mr Lunn had any injuries which suggested a struggle had taken place.
Miss Newton served as a Guide Leader for the 2nd Chester-le-Street and Mr Lunn said she also served as a district commissioner for the Guiding Association.
“Her popularity was shown by the turnout a the crematorium, it was packed,” Mr Lunn said. “There were a lot of teachers there, and people from the Guides.”
The couple first met in 1973 when they both worked at Pelton Roseburry School. Mr Lunn left, but the pair met up again in 1994 when his wife died of cancer.
“She came to my house with some other teachers,” he said. “The next time I came across her was at Christmas time,” he said. “She came to live with me in my house. She’d only been there six months before her death.”
Sunderland Coroner Derek Winter recorded a verdict of accidental death, citing the cause as drowning.