Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 15:32 UK

Mother had 'ligature' around neck

Heather Wardle and James Hughes

A mother who went missing along with her disabled son was found with a ligature around her neck, police said.

Heather Wardle, 39, of Redditch, Worcestershire, and her son, James Hughes, both went missing on Friday.

A search is continuing for the "extremely vulnerable" Mr Hughes, who is 22 but has the mental age of an 18-month-old, police said.

Ms Wardle, whose body was found in the town on Monday, was a "brilliant mother", her partner Brian Kirby said.

The mother-of-four's body was discovered in undergrowth off Winyates Way in the Church Hill area, less than a mile from where she lived with her son.

Police have said the death was being treated as unexplained.

A post-mortem examination took place on Tuesday and while the results of toxicology tests are awaited, police have confirmed the mother was found with a ligature around her neck at the base of a tree.

'Tends to stumble'

Mr Kirby, 36, got together with Ms Wardle after she moved next door to his sister nearly 16 years ago.

They moved in together and were engaged within a year but never married.

He described her as a chatty, bubbly person, who got on well with neighbours and his family, and although they had had problems in recent months, were still on very close terms.

"Her priorities were the family and the house," he said.

Woodland
Heather Wardle's body was found in undergrowth

"It's very hard to accept and take in. That wasn't the Heather I know. It's hurting me and the kids are also heartbroken and desperately missing her."

Ms Wardle left home on Friday, saying she was going to visit a friend nearby. Police have said it is not clear when Mr Hughes was last seen.

The search continues to be concentrated in the Church Hill area of the town, the West Mercia force said on Wednesday.

It is still scouring the area where the body was found and near to the family's home with the police helicopter being involved in the search.

Supt Jane Horwood, of West Mercia Police, said Mr Hughes had epilepsy and other health needs.

'Needs medication'

He needs regular medication and cannot communicate at all, police said.

Supt Jane Horwood said: "We are still speaking to the family, as well as to friends, associates and neighbours to build up a picture of the family's lifestyle and establish the recent movements.

"In particular we are trying to find out when both were last seen - either separately or together.

"He (James) cannot communicate at all, or walk very far and has a hearing impairment.

"He cannot feed himself or even communicate that he is hungry, and he does not usually respond to his own name.

"He needs medication for epilepsy, and without this he is likely to have very regular fits.

"In short he is very disabled, requiring round the clock care, and we remain extremely concerned for his safety."

Mr Hughes is described as white, 5ft 4in tall, thin, with short mousy hair and looks younger than his age.




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