25 04 2008

Police question stepfather over disabled man’s death

April 24, 2008

Steven Morris

guardian.co.uk

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/apr/24/ukcrime2

The stepfather of a severely disabled man whose body was found hidden at his family home is being questioned in connection with his death, it emerged tonight.

Brian Kirby, 36, was named locally as the man arrested by police on suspicion of James Hughes’ murder.

Hughes’ body was found on Wednesday hidden at his home in Redditch, Worcestershire, two days after his mother, Heather Wardle, was discovered dead at the foot of a tree with a ligature around her neck. The pair had been reported missing at the weekend.

Police refused to confirm the name of the man they had arrested. A youth was also being held on suspicion of murder.

Detectives are still trying to establish when and where Hughes, who was 22 but had the mental age of a toddler, was last seen, amid growing suspicions that he could have been dead for some time.

Police revealed today that the body was being identified using dental records, suggesting it may have been decomposed or badly damaged.

Officers refused to comment on rumours that Hughes’ body was found in a suitcase hidden in an outhouse in the back garden of his home. Forensic teams continued to search the garden.

Police are treating the death of 39-year-old Wardle as “unexplained” but believe she took her own life.

Some neighbours claimed Hughes had not been around for some time before he and his mother was reported missing. Several have also said Wardle seemed distracted and upset in recent weeks.

Superintendent Jane Horwood, of West Mercia constabulary, said: “We are still trying to establish exactly when and where [Hughes] was last seen.”

Hughes lived in a terraced house in the Church Hill area of Redditch with his mother, his stepfather and three stepbrothers, Daniel, who is 17, Callum, eight, and Luke, six. Hughes’ natural father, Paul Hughes, also lives in Redditch.

After Wardle’s body was found, Kirby paid tribute to a “brilliant mother” who doted on all her children. “Her priorities were the family and the house. She was an excellent mother and really lovely. “She was great, she was my star.” he said.

Kirby said he and the children were devastated by Wardle’s death. “It’s very hard to accept and take in. That wasn’t the Heather I know. It’s hurting me and the kids are also heartbroken and desperately missing her. She will be sorely missed.”

A relative of the family, Margaret Cooper, said today Wardle and Kirby had been having problems.

Cooper, a great grandmother of James, said: “The last time I saw her she said her and Brian were having problems. I told her we all have problems and she seemed okay eventually. I can’t believe this has happened. She was such a sweet girl and very kind. I loved having her around.

“Heather was only 17 when she had James she didn’t know he was disabled at first. You know how a child turns around when you walk in a room? Well he never did. I remember clapping my hands in front of him and nothing happened – he just wasn’t there. He was a lovely lad, it’s just so tragic that this has happened. We don’t know whether James was dead before Heather or Heather died before James.”

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