Mystery of woman's death

Three pathologists were called in to investigate the death of a woman, whose body was found on the staircase of her home, but the full truth behind the tragedy may never be known.

The body of Jacqueline Theresa Cox, 32, was found by her husband Stephen at their home in Hurstwood Road, High Barnes, on the morning of Sunday, July 23 last year.

Sunderland's deputy coroner Karin Welsh recorded an open verdict at the end of a five-day inquest, saying she accepted that death was due to hanging, but some aspects remained unclear.

The inquest heard that Jacqueline had spent the previous night in Sunderland drinking with friends and had met up with her husband, who had also been out drinking, and gone home.

Stephen, 35, told the hearing that he went to sleep and only awoke in the morning when he heard a telephone ringing.

"I went on to the landing and saw that she was lying on the stairs," he said.

"I shouted at her and ran downstairs. I jumped over her and shook her a bit. I could see there was no sign of life and that's when I phoned 999. I thought she'd fallen down the stairs."

The inquest heard that Jacqueline had bruising to her legs and a head wound which was not initially spotted, but this had nothing to do with her death.

Summing up, Ms Welsh said that Dr James Sunter, a pathologist who has since died, said he believed death was due to hanging by a ligature – a woman's belt which had snapped.

Dr William Lawler, who carried out the first post-mortem examination, concluded that death was due to neck compression, probably as a result of hanging.

A third pathologist brought in to help with the inquiry, Dr Basil Purdue, said death was due to neck compression as a result of "non-typical" hanging.

The police became suspicious because of the unusual position of the body on the staircase and the lack of clothing.

Ms Welsh said the bruising on Jacqueline's body was "a mystery" but it did not add up to evidence of an assault.

She said the couple had a "tempestuous" relationship and Jacqueline suffered from depression, having previously taken tablets, but she could not be certain that she intended to take her own life.

Ms Welsh said that although Stephen had initially been arrested, she could find no evidence that he played any part in Jacqueline's death.

She also said a "lack of continuity" in evidence produced by the police had made it harder for her to come to a decision.

Verdict: Open.