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Last Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006, 04:51 GMT 05:51 UK
Woman's body in bedsit for years
A woman's remains were found surrounded by unopened Christmas presents in a London bedsit two years after she is thought to have died, an inquest heard.

The TV and heating were still on when housing officers discovered the body of Joyce Vincent, 40, in her living room.

They had gone to the flat - a refuge for victims of domestic violence - to investigate thousands in rent arrears.

Police believe she died of natural causes probably in December 2003 and an inquest recorded an open verdict.

Some of Ms Vincent's relatives, including her sisters, attended the inquest at Hornsey Coroner's Court, held by Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker.

Dental records

Ms Vincent's body, found in January this year at the flat in Wood Green, north London, was so decomposed that the only way to identify her was to compare dental records with a holiday photograph.

A spokesman for the coroner said she had apparently been placed in the women's refuge accommodation as a victim of domestic violence.

I did notice a kind of rotten smell but the bins downstairs are strong and the stairwells smell with junkies
Michael Dobbs

When staff from the Metropolitan Housing Trust (MHT) arrived at the flat on 25 January they drilled the door open and discovered piles of mail - some marked February 2003 - plus medication and food with February 2003 expiry dates, the spokesman said.

Pathologist Dr Simon Poole told the inquest he had been unable to establish the cause of death because the remains were "largely skeletal", but police did not regard the circumstances as suspicious.

MHT issued a statement which read: "Ms Vincent moved into the property, which is general needs rented accommodation, in February 2003.

"Housing benefit was in part paying Ms Vincent's rent, therefore, given her age, there was no reason to suspect anything unusual had happened.

"During this period our records show MHT were not contacted by neighbours or family to raise any concerns and so we were only alerted when significant arrears built up and we tried to gain access."

The flat is part of a complex build above a shopping complex in Wood Green. Neighbours told the Guardian newspaper whenever they knocked at the door, no-one answered, so they assumed it was unoccupied.

No family shock

Michael Dobbs, who moved in in summer 2004 said: "I always thought it was an empty house. It's a shock to think that she had family and nobody came.

"It's also a puzzle how her electricity was not cut off because her TV was on all this time.

He told the paper it was a noisy building frequented by drug addicts, which could explain why no-one noticed the noise from the TV.

He said he had discovered someone dead, clutching a bottle of drink, in the lift weeks ago.

"I did notice a kind of rotten smell but the bins downstairs are strong and the stairwells smell with junkies.

"I did get a few bugs coming into my house so I had to keep the windows closed."

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