The mother of a severely disabled Redditch man whose body was found in a suitcase had told her partner she wanted to kill herself months before she was found hanged, an inquest heard.
Brian Kirby described his relationship with Heather Wardle as “fiery” and said he had wanted to end their 16-year relationship for more than three years.
Mr Kirby, aged 36, had been a stepfather to 22-year-old James Hughes, whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase in the back garden of their home in Redditch less than 48 hours after his mother Heather was found hanged nearby.
He said: “We had not been functioning as a family for months. We did nothing together and Heather and I argued most of the time. I was struggling to make the decision to leave as I did not know how Heather would cope with the kids.”
He recalled a change in Ms Wardle’s attitude and physical state and said they were both extremely stressed.
“We were arguing once and she said she wanted to kill herself. I told her not to say things like that and she said she was just being silly and would not do that really,” he said.
The family also had serious financial issues and were due to be evicted in April, around the time Ms Wardle was discovered hanged in woodlands near her home in Loxley Close.
Mr Kirby said he had become a father-figure to James and younger brother Daniel when they were aged six and 16 months respectively.
In the last few months of James’ life, Mr Kirby said he rarely saw him and Heather had been her son’s primary carer. The court heard how Mr Kirby could not recall the last time he had seen James at the family’s home
He said the hostile atmosphere at home between Ms Wardle and himself, led him to work longer hours to “keep out of the way”.
When deputy coroner for Worcestershire Margaret Barnard asked him if he knew how James’ had died or ended up in a suitcase, he answered no to both questions.
The court also heard that James’ personal carer Jane Cotterill had alerted social services after James suffered significant weight loss while in respite care last September.
Ms Cotterill, who was based at the Churchview Shortbreaks centre in Bromsgrove, told the coroner’s court in Stourport-on-Severn: “I told my manager to come and have a look at him because his body weight loss was dramatic. He’d become so thin, although it was a gradual change.”
She added: “I loved to take James out, he was my favourite.”
Jeremy Foxall, a social work team leader, said he did not feel James’ case had presented enough “indicators to trigger adult protection procedures”.
Referring to Ms Wardle, Mr Foxall said: “This was a carer that we knew and had no concerns about.”
David Ruegg, the social worker tasked with contacting Ms Wardle about the concerns, conceded that, with the benefit of hindsight, more questions should have been asked about James.
Mr Ruegg said a letter was initially sent to Ms Wardle and he had visited her home on March 19, but she was not present. He then visited the property again on April 14 and spoke to her. He made an appointment to see her again on April 23.
He said: “She appeared to be a normal, happy individual – she didn’t seem stressed.”
The hearing continues.