The body of a missing Barnham mum, who took her own life, was not found for more than a year as it was in an area which 'people could not get into', an inquest has heard.
Mum-of-three Helen Slaughter, 49, was reported missing after leaving her home in Stempswood Way at 6am on November 1, 2017.
Despite a large-scale search, her body wasn't found until March this year. The inquest heard that skeletal remains were found by a member of the public, who had been looking for a missing dog, in a woodland in Nanny’s Copse, Walberton, on Tuesday, March 5.
Helen believed her doctors were 'conspiring against her'
Acting, detective inspector Karrie Bohanna attended the documentary inquest at Crawley Coroner’s Court today (Tuesday).
DI Bohanna said Nanny's Copse 'is not an easy place to get to or hide' and was 'very difficult' for police to navigate.
She added: "We had to make a makeshift bridge for us to get over. There are two or three high, difficult, fences."
Senior coroner for West Sussex, Penelope Schofield, asked DI Bohanna if Helen would have had to make a 'conscious effort' to get into Nanny's Copse.
She replied: "Yes, she would. She would not have been able to just stumble across it.
"The skeletal remains were found beyond the fence. There was no obvious route in or out [but] the wiring was unwound."
The inquest heard that Helen had suffered from depression and paranoia before her disappearance.
Detective sergeant Alan Fenn said: "She started taking medication in January 2017. She thought she had cancer and that her phone had been bugged. This led her to believe her doctors were conspiring against her."
'It did not read to me like a goodbye'
The inquest heard that a note, written by Helen, was recently found, but Helen's husband Ken said it 'did not read like a goodbye'.
He added: "Obviously there was something wrong with her. She was worried she had cancer and worried that she might lose her horses. She had treatment for mental health.
"We were worried when she went missing, but we thought something had happened to her not that she had done something to herself.
"We wish we found the note on the day she went missing. I did not think she would be doing anything other than going to work."
Mrs Schofield said the note did 'seem to suggest' that Helen was 'planning to do something' but DI Bohanna said it could have been written soon before her disappearance or a long time prior."
Ken also told the inquest that he did not believe Helen died on the day of her disappearance, due to a creditable reported sighting almost a week after.
He said: "A neighbour said she saw Helen on November 7. She was 98 per cent sure it was her.
"She asked her to come in for a cup of tea but she disappeared into the woods."
Police did 'as much as we possibly could' to find Helen
DS Fenn said officers conducted a 'plethora of enquiries' and said every possible sighting was 'subject to scrutiny'.
He added: "They were unconfirmed and were not corroborated. It was never confirmed that it was her."
Sergeant Pete Higgins, the police search adviser in the case, also spoke at the inquest.
He said: "We systemically covered all bases where someone could hide. We searched a lot of wooded areas. The bushes and brambles were impenetrable.
"There were about 140 search areas and there were a number we could not get into."
Sergeant Higgins also revealed that Nanny's Copse was extensively searched early on after Helen's disappearance.
He said: "That area was searched on December 3 between 9.54am and 10.22am. The dogs were also sent in to search over the Christmas and new year period."
The inquest heard that the family did not have a specific connection to Nanny's Copse.
Sergeant Higgins said he did not believe anything more could have been done to find Helen.
He said: "We spent long hours, searching masses of areas. We conducted intense searches over days and days.
"Volunteers gave up their own time to help. It is very difficult to say we covered 100 per cent as it's impossible.
"We did as much as we possibly could to find her. Unfortunately, we were not able to do so."
No suspicious circumstances
DI Bohanna confirmed that Helen's death was 'never treated as suspicious' and nothing untoward was found upon the discovery of her body.
"There was nothing suspicious," she said.
"There was evidence of burning on two skeletal remains and there was a small group of items which had been burned but there was no evidence to suggest that it was not self inflicted.
"It has not been possible to find out what caused the burning."
In her conclusion, Mrs Schofield she was 'satisfied' that Helen did die at the place she was found but the date of her death was 'impossible to confirm'.
She added: "The date will have to be recorded as between the day she went missing and the day she was found.
"Helen was found in a secluded area. It seems that she did not want to be found. That is why she chose that area.
"There was no evidence of any suspicious circumstances apart from unexplained burns.
"We cannot establish a formal cause of death so it will have to be recorded as 1A unascertained."
Mrs Schofield recorded a conclusion of suicide before offering her 'sincerest condolences' to the family.
She said: "Helen left a note but we don't know when it was written. We don't know what her state of mind was.
"Her husband does not believe it to be a suicide note [but] she had made a previous suicide attempt and she received mental health treatment. I would take the view that it was [a suicide note].
"On the balance of probabilities, I am satisfied that Helen Slaughter did take her own life.
"It will have been a terribly difficult couple of years for the family and, now that the inquest is over, I hope you all can try to put the circumstances out of your mind."
Anyone affected by this article, or who needs support, can speak to the Samaritans – free and at any time – by calling 116 123. For more information about the Samaritans, visit www.samaritans.org.
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