A man who feared he would be evicted for illegally taking in a lodger lived with the corpse of his friend lying on the sofa – FOR TEN YEARS, an inquest heard.
Alan Derrick discovered his lodger Dennis Pring dead on his sofa in 1998 and decided to cover up the body with cushions and two armchairs.
He carried on living in the sheltered housing flat in Mawdeley House, Bedminster, Bristol, for the next ten years without reporting the death.
Neighbours repeatedly complained to the council about foul smells from the flat but although council officers visited twice Dennis’ body was not found.
His fully decomposed skeleton was finally discovered in January 2008 when cleaners were brought in after Derrick was evicted from the flat following a county court order.
Derrick, who is in his 70s and suffers from learning difficulties, was arrested on suspicion of murder but later released without charge.
Recording an open verdict at an inquest into Dennis’ death assistant deputy Avon coroner Terry Moore said it is likely he died of ”hypertension or over-drinking”.
He said: ”The circumstances, as far as one can tell, are that Mr Pring was simply a former colleague of Mr Derek who took pity on him and offered him somewhere to stay.
”They lived pretty much separate existences but there came a point, I would say at the end of April 1998 or June 1998, when Mr Pring laid down on the sofa and did not get up again.
”That left the tenant of the property not knowing what to do. There was a visit by council officer Sandra Wedlock in which she identified the smell was from the toilet and even passing through the living room failed to identify the body was there on the sofa.
”Unfortunately due to the fact the body has lain there for something approaching ten years Dr Hugh White had an extremely difficult task to identity cause of death.”
Former warehouseman Dennis, who was aged 63 or 64 when he died, began drinking heavily after his wife Patricia died and he fell out of touch with his son Stephen.
Derrick, a former council binman who was described as ”simple” by neighbours, took pity on his drinking buddy and allowed him to sleep on the sofa.
Although Derrick lived in sheltered housing he was a ”no call” tenant, which meant residential officers were not permitted to enter his flat without permission.
Council officers entered the property in 1999 and 2002 after neighbours reported a foul smell but this was believed to be the toilet and Dennis was not discovered.
The inquest heard the flat had no running water, electricity or gas, was knee-deep in litter, plastic bags and newspapers.
The bath tub was brimmed full of human excrement causing the smell described by cleaner David White as ”horrendous” and ”the worst he had ever experienced”.
Detective superintendent David Paniccia-Brown told the inquest that when Derek found Dennis dead he went out to the pub ”as per his normal routine”.
He said: ”They would go to the pub in the morning, return at lunchtime, go to sleep, wake up and then go to the pub or stay in the flat drinking cider.
”One day before going to the pub Derrick shook Mr Pring, got no response, went out to the pub as per his normal routine, returned home and tipped the sofa over onto its side.
”He then never returned to the sofa again but the room was still used, for example he ate chinese takeaways in there.
”The reason he didn’t tell anyone was because he knew he wasn’t supposed to have lodgers and he would be evicted and have nowhere to live.
”He was quite embarrassed and tearful. Mr Derrick was described by his neighbours as a loner and simple. He often needed help to read his mail.”
Dennis’ corpse was found on January 30 2008 after council cleaners had entered Derrick’s flat to clean up following his eviction to a neighbouring flat.
Police officers found a receipt from June 11 1998 in his pocket and a social security book stamped April 1998 with the June benefit cheque unused.
Dr Hugh White, who carried out a post-mortem examination of the corpse, believes Dennis died of hyper tension caused by a road traffic accident or heavy drinking.
Council worker Sandra Wedlock told the inquest that when she visited Derrick’s flat in 1999 she failed to notice Dennis’ body despite walking through the living room.
She said: ”The flat was filthy and the smell from the toilet was horrendous so we just thought that was where the foul smell was coming from.
”I wasn’t looking for a body I was looking for a smell so I came out and reported my findings to estate management.”
Following the inquest Jon House, Deputy Chief Executive of Bristol City Council, said a ”healthier dose of common sense” would have prevented the ten year delay.
He said: ”I’d like first to express again my condolences to Mr Pring’s family and friends.
”I want to acknowledge that a more active intervention nine or ten years ago, and a healthier dose of common sense, might have stopped Mr Pring’s death lying undiscovered.
”What I think is most important now is that we demonstrate that we have long since learned from this experience.”