22 04 2008

Hunt for disabled man after mother found dead

By Nick Britten




A major police manhunt is underway for a severely disabled man after his mother was found dead in woodland.

Heather Wardle, 39, disappeared with James Hughes – who has a mental age of 18 months – on Friday night, on the eve of his 22nd birthday.
Her body was found yesterday evening around half a mile from their home but there has been no sign of James, who can barely walk and needs constant care.

Police said they were “extremely concerned” for his well being.

Mrs Wardle was thought to be under “tremendous strain” having to look after James 24 hours a day, as well as having three other sons, and it is believed she committed suicide.

Neighbours said she had appeared “distant” recently and was seen talking to herself.

Lyn Parkes, 48, said: “She was quite a strong girl and it was her who kept the family going. It was as if she did everything, and without her the family would fall apart.

“When I saw her last week she looked like she had lost weight. I saw her walking along the alleyway to get the kids from school and she looked like she was having a good conversation with someone – but there was nobody with her at the time.”

Mrs Wardle, who has not been formally identified, was found by youths in undergrowth at around 6pm near a popular bus route on Winyates Way in Redditch, Worcs.

Within a few minutes walk of the spot, which is surrounded by houses, is an industrial estate and country park, which has a large lake.

James is epileptic and can only manage to walk a few paces at a time without stumbling, so uses a wheelchair.

He cannot fend for himself and needs round the clock attention.

Supt Jane Horwood, of West Mercia Police: “James has not been found, and obviously in light of the discovery of what we believe to be his mother’s body, we are very concerned for his well-being.

“He needs his most basic needs taking care of and cannot fend for himself.

“At the moment we have no idea where he is, but he is extremely vulnerable and while we are keeping an open mind obviously we are very concerned.”

He said while Miss Wardle, who lived with her boyfriend Brian Kirby and her other sons, Daniel, aged 18, Callum, eight, and Luke six, was seen last Friday, it remains unclear when James was last seen and officers were “trying to find out more about both Heather and James’ movements over the last few months and put together a picture of their lives”.

She added: “Heather was James’ main carer and her family tell us she was a fantastic mother.

“However looking after another person – however much that person is loved – round the clock inevitably takes its toll and we can only imagine what tremendous strain Heather was under.”

Neighbours in Loxley Close said Miss Wardle was a loving mother who doted on her children.

Sara Hay, 32, said: “She didn’t look her normal self on Friday afternoon, she just looked fed up.”




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