Page last updated at 20:01 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

'Weight fears' over suitcase man

Heather Wardle and James Hughes
Heather Wardle's body was found two days before her son

Social services were alerted to concerns about a severely disabled man's health months before his body was found in a suitcase, an inquest heard.

James Hughes, 22, had lost a lot of weight while in respite care in 2007, Worcestershire Coroner's Court heard.

His remains were discovered in Redditch in April two days after his mother, Heather Wardle, was found hanged.

Her partner, Brian Kirby, told the inquest he did not know how Mr Hughes' body came to be in the suitcase.

Left message

Staff at the care centre attended by Mr Hughes told the inquest how they had been concerned at his weight in the autumn of 2007.

It also emerged Mr Hughes did not have a social worker specifically assigned to him for a period before his death.

John Peakman, the short breaks manager at one of the centres which cared for Mr Hughes, told the inquest he was alerted to Mr Hughes' weight loss by a colleague in November 2007.

Mr Peakman said he then attempted to contact Ms Wardle, a mother-of-four, and had left a message on her answering machine.

He was thin and his eating habits hadn't changed
Jane Cotterill, one-to-one carer

He met with a social services official on 19 December last year, raising concerns about Mr Hughes' health and his non-attendance at the centre.

"I was reassured that matters were in hand in relation to James' health and that he would return to us some time after," Mr Peakman said.

The inquest was also told a letter was sent to Ms Wardle by social services and a social worker had called at her home in March this year, but neither she nor Mr Hughes was at home.

Ms Wardle was later spoken to in person and appeared relaxed as she told a social worker that Mr Hughes was with his father.

Recounting the occasion when she summoned Mr Peakman to examine Mr Hughes, Jane Cotterill, who was his one-to-one carer at the centre, said: "He was thin and his eating habits hadn't changed."

But Ms Cotterill said she had harboured no concerns about Ms Wardle as a mother or for Mr Hughes after he stopped visiting the centre in November 2007.

Jeremy Foxall, a social work team leader, told the hearing he did not feel James' case had presented enough "indicators to trigger adult protection procedures".

Great stress

David Ruegg, a social worker tasked with contacting Ms Wardle about concerns, conceded that, with the benefit of hindsight, more questions should have been asked about James.

But Ms Wardle had no history of neglecting or abusing James, Mr Ruegg said.

Mr Kirby, who reported James and Heather missing on 20 April, said he could not recall an exact date when he last saw James.

"In all honesty, I didn't see a great deal of him," he told the court.

Both he and Ms Wardle were under great stress, he added, and were facing money problems and possible eviction from their home.

James' half-brother Daniel Kirby, 18, has previously told the hearing that he had not seen him since the latter part of 2007 and had believed his mother's claims that he was being given respite care.

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