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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Artist died 'handcuffed to tree'
Richard Sumner, pic courtesy of Liverpool Echo
Richard Sumner's skeleton was found handcuffed to a tree
A schizophrenic artist who died after handcuffing himself to a tree after throwing away the key, may have tried to free himself, an inquest has heard.

The skeleton of Richard Sumner - 47 when he went missing three years ago - was found in a remote area of Clocaenog Forest, Denbighshire, in April 2005.

Mr Sumner, from Crosby, Merseyside, may have changed his mind about killing himself but could not reach the keys, the Denbigh inquest was told.

The coroner recorded an open verdict.

Mr Sumner, at one time a scenic artist for opera productions at Glyndebourne, had suffered from schizophrenia since 1984.

The hearing was told he had attempted to take his life in this manner before and in 1996 had taken four days to free himself.

His skeleton was found by a woman who had become lost while walking her dog.

He could have been there for a few days. If you handcuff yourself to a tree you would die fairly quickly but maybe not as quickly as you would like
Home Office pathologist Brian Rogers

The handcuffs attached to one arm indicated that Mr Sumner had attached himself to the tree and thrown the key to a point where he could not retrieve it, north east Wales coroner John Hughes was told.

However, Home Office pathologist Brian Rogers said the position of the handcuffs and marks found on the tree indicated that Mr Sumner had probably changed his mind, but could not reach the key.

"It's possible he took an overdose of tablets. It's possible he took poison. Clearly he had handcuffed himself to the tree and he had thrown away the key."

'Talented and intelligent'

When asked by Mr Sumner's sister, Patricia Jones, if he could say how long her brother would have taken to die, Mr Rogers said: "He could have been there for a few days. If you handcuff yourself to a tree you would die fairly quickly but maybe not as quickly as you would like."

Mr Hughes heard evidence that Mr Sumner was a talented, intelligent man who felt frustrated by his illness and who said he did not wish to be a parasite.

His sister told the court that her brother had spoken of taking his own life and she confirmed there had been three previous attempts.

"His idea was to kill himself but he couldn't do it because he couldn't upset everybody, including the people who would find his body," she said.

She said that was the reason he had gone so far into the wood - in the hope his remains would not be found.

Coroner John Hughes concluded: "It's clear that Richard John Sumner was a very troubled man and he was getting worse and he was very depressed."

He expressed his "sincere sympathies" to Mr Sumner's family but said he could not know for sure how he died or whether he really intended to take his own life.

"Sadly, I return a verdict of an open nature, an open verdict," he told them.


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