A local authority apologised last night to the family of a 63-year-old man whose body lay undiscovered in a council flat for almost six years.

An inquest heard that Kenneth Mann was found dead at his home in Carless Street, Walsall, last June when a neighbour's grandson forced his way into the flat.

Black Country coroner Robin Balmain yesterday recorded a verdict of death by natural causes and expressed his sadness at such a thing happening in the 21st century.

Speaking after the hearing, Annie Shepperd, the chief executive of Walsall Council, said: "Kenneth Mann died alone - friendless and isolated from his family.

"This is the sad and shocking story of the lonely death of a man whose life was disintegrating."

Ms Shepperd, who stressed that nothing could have been done to avoid the death, added: "Without friends, family, church, neighbours or his landlords to keep in touch with him, our society failed Mr Mann. The authorities also did not pick up his death and we are deeply sorry that this did not happen."

The inquest in Walsall heard that Mr Mann's body remained undiscovered for so long because his property was earmarked for demolition.

Ms Shepperd said: "Walsall has made dramatic changes in the way houses scheduled for demolition are inspected and secured and all the authorities involved believe it is extremely unlikely that such a thing would happen again.

"However, the coroner's inquiry into this case now provides all the authorities with a broader picture of how this happened and we are working closely with Walsall Housing Group and our other partner organisations to learn the lessons from this and do our best to ensure nothing like this happens again."

Mr Mann ' s badlydecomposed, fully-clothed body was found lying on the bed of his first-floor flat.

It is thought Mr Mann, who was described as a loner, died in September 1998. Recording his verdict, Mr Balmain said it appeared Mr Mann had fallen through the net despite visits and letters by the housing trust, the Benefits Agency and the Pension Service.

He had been admitted to the accident and emergency department of Walsall Manor Hospital after a drunken fall the day before he is thought to have died.

Several people who visited the flat over the years were told by neighbours that he had moved or died.