A West Midlands lorry driver who committed suicide after he is believed to have strangled his fiancee's nine-year-old daughter had previously said he would rather kill himself than go to prison, an inquest heard.

Stacey Lawrence, of West Bromwich, was found last August in the cab of a white Spar lorry parked in a layby in Warmington, Northamptonshire.

She had been on a delivery run with her mother's partner Darren Walker, 40, whose body was found hanging from a tree in nearby woodland.

After the corpses were discovered, it emerged Stacey had been sexually assaulted before she died.

Mr Walker's inquest, at Kettering Magistrates' Court, heard today that he had previously told his fiancee Roxanne Lawrence - Stacey's mother - that he would kill himself rather than go to jail.

Northamptonshire coroner Anne Pember read a statement from the distraught mother, who was not at the inquest, which said Mr Walker, also of West Bromwich, previously told her and her daughter Emma that if he ever got angry with his estranged wife and did something wrong, he would commit suicide to avoid prison.

The lorry driver took Stacey on a delivery run with him on August 28 last year - like other trips they had made before together. But the alarm was raised when they did not return and once AF Blakemore, the company he worked for, activated a tracking device on the lorry, it was found in a layby on the A605 in Warmington, Northants.

Stacey's partially-clothed body was found in the lorry cab, the inquest heard. She had been strangled with a ligature.

Walker's body was found hanging from a tree in nearby woodland.

A post-mortem examination found he died of hanging and pathologist Guy Rutty said marks on his body were consistent with his attempts to hang himself from the tree.

In a statement read to the inquest today, Roxanne Lawrence described meeting Walker in August 2007 through her daughter's boyfriend when they were both already in relationships.

She said that when she met him and his then-wife, she was shocked at how they talked openly about their sex life.

She said he continued to visit her house, adding: "Family and friends had told me that he liked me and that was why he was visiting.

"To begin with, I just saw him as dirty and inappropriate. I was happy with my boyfriend at this time."

She said their relationship grew as Mr Walker started helping around the house, and when her relationship with her boyfriend broke down in March 2008 they became closer.

He started staying with her several nights a week at her home in Bagnall Road, West Bromwich.

"Darren was a very romantic person and would like to take me away," she said. "He would be very much a family man and like doing things as a family."

She said he was planning to propose in July 2008 but they were involved in a serious car crash. He finally did propose in September that year, the inquest heard.

"Darren was a very laidback person. He never showed any anger towards anyone," she said.

But she said on one occasion, when she found out he had slept with his estranged wife, he "snapped" and smashed a car window.

She also said the father of two seemed to take little interest in his own children but had never given her any cause to worry about his relationship with hers.

"If Stacey was in the shower and called for a towel, Darren would always make sure that one of us females took it to her."

She said Stacey developed an interest in Walker's lorry-driving work and asked to go with him.

They had been on a few trips before, and although he was concerned what people might think about her sleeping overnight in the lorry with him, Ms Lawrence never had any cause to worry, she said.

She said he would sleep fully-clothed in the passenger seat of the lorry while Stacey slept in the cab.

They left at around 3am on Friday August 28 for the delivery journey.

Ms Lawrence's statement said she spoke to Walker and her daughter on Friday, saying: "There were no issues raised during the conversation."

They spoke on Friday night, but when she did not receive a call from the pair on Saturday morning, she began to worry. She eventually contacted the depot, which took measures to find the lorry, the inquest heard.

"I can't believe on that Friday morning Darren left our family home as the man I loved and by Saturday he was the man responsible for my nine-year-old daughter's death," she said. "I am shocked that the man I was intending to marry could have done this.

"I hate Darren for what he has done to me and my family."

Forensic scientist Robert Bone, from the Forensic Science Service, said Stacey had been strangled using a ligature of some kind of strapping. He said Walker's body was found hanging by a ligature with his feet 3ft above the ground.

"Officers required a ladder to enable them to reach and cut the cord from the branch."

Coroner Anne Pember recorded a verdict of suicide, saying: "From the evidence I have heard, I am quite satisfied that this man made a firm decision to end his life."

Members of Mr Walker's family did not wish to comment on the inquest.

The inquest of Stacey Lawrence has yet to take place.

Friday August 28, 4am - Walker and Stacey leave the AF Blakemore & Son depot in Willenhall, West Midlands, heading for Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk. Throughout the day they make deliveries to Spar stores across Norfolk.
Friday August 28, 3pm - The lorry makes a short stop just outside Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.
Friday August 28, 3.35pm - The lorry arrives in a lay-by off the A605 in Warmington, Northamptonshire.
At some point the pair are spotted leaving the lorry to use the toilets at the services.
Friday, August 28, 7.30-8pm - Walker phones Roxanne Lawrence to tell her he plans to leave in the early hours of the morning to get back to the depot. She hears Stacey's voice in the background as she watches television.
Saturday August 29, 2pm - Police receive a call from AF Blakemore, expressing concerns that one of its delivery lorries has not returned to base.
The lorry is tracked to the A605 in Warmington and found in a lorry park next to the Jet filling station.
The body of nine-year-old Stacey is found in the cab. Walker's body is then found hanging in a tree in nearby woodland.
Tuesday, September 1 - Police reveal Stacey may have been sexually assaulted before she died, but was unlikely to have been raped. An unnamed woman from Wolverhampton also told the Sun newspaper Walker had persuaded a friend and her daughter to go on a Spanish holiday with him and others, then tried to force himself on the girl when they were alone.
Thursday, September 3 - Stacey's mother Roxanne Lawrence, 38, said she had thought Walker was her "Prince Charming".
She described him as "brilliant with the kids, brilliant with myself, a family man".
The devastated mother said she had gone from loving him to hating him.
Friday, September 4 - Inquests were opened into the deaths of both Stacey Lawrence and Darren Walker.
Thursday, September 17 - Police said forensic tests confirmed Stacey had been sexually assaulted, although there was no evidence she had been raped.
Thursday, February 25 - An inquest into the death of Darren Walker hears he previously told fiancee Roxanne Lawrence that if he ever did anything that would mean he would go to prison, he would rather kill himself. Coroner Anne Pember records a verdict of suicide.