A mum-of-three whose body was found 80 miles from her Preston home had been suffering from a return bout of depression almost 20 years after being diagnosed with the ilness.
Brenda Wignall went missing from her Ribbleton home in Marl Hill Crescent on Friday, October 11 last year. Her body was found a week later at the South Walney Nature Reserve on Walney Island in Cumbria.
At an inquest held at Preston Coroner's Court today (January 23), the court heard how on the night Brenda disappeared she had left home, leaving the front door ajar. She had not taken any of her personal possessions with her.
Her husband had checked on her at 2am where she was asleep on the couch, before going to bed himself. He woke up and went to check on her at 10am but Brenda was not in the house.
Before her disappearance, the court heard how Brenda's mental health had deteriorated to a point where she had been experiencing anxiety and depression. It was the first time since 2002 that she had experienced instances like these, with her living a "normal, happy, family life" in the time since then. In 2002, she had been reported as missing for a period of time and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. During that missing persons instance Brenda had been found safe by the side of the River Ribble.
The inquest heard how Brenda's mental health deteriorated after being told she was going to have to travel abroad for daughter Laura's looming wedding. Speaking in the inquest, Laura said it seemed that "things got on top of her", adding: "She was one of those people that didn't like letting me down."
The inquest had earlier heard from assistant coroner Mark Williams how Brenda "was very family orientated" with her relatives at the centre of everything she did, adding that "everything she did revolved around the family".
Mr Wignall had contacted his daughters before Brenda went missing asking for their help, with Brenda appearing "withdrawn" and spending a lot of time in bed. She was subsequently taken to see her GP where she was given a prescription mirroring her medication from when her mental health had suffered almost 20 years earlier.
Reading a statement from Laura, Mr Williams said that Brenda had assured family members that she was "feeling better" and stopped taking her medication. But after this she started to "go downhill", was sleeping more than usual and on occasion not going to work. The statement also mentioned the loss of Brenda's son Marcus in the early 1990s, and how "perhaps she never grieved properly" for him.
Three days before she went missing, Brenda was taken back to her GP by her daughters where it was noticed that she looked worried and was avoiding eye contact, but that there were no indications of suicidal tendencies. At the appointment Brenda explained her worries at getting over her fear of flying for her daughter's wedding. She was given a sick note for two weeks and referred to see a mental health specialist; an appointment that never took place due to her disappearance on October 11.
PC Nicholas Mattock, an officer based at Preston police station, told the inquest that at the time of Brenda's disappearance the River Ribble was "particularly high", with the temperature of the water somewhere between five and 10 degrees Celsius. He also said that the Environment Agency had recorded the river as being the 119th highest it has ever been since records began in 1976. Specialist search advisor PC Mattock explained that the human body cannot function below 15 degrees Celsius without a wet or dry suit protecting the body.
When asked by Mr Williams whether it was correct to say Brenda had gone into the River Ribble at the Tickle Trout area of Preston, PC Mattock agreed that it was feasible, and that if so, there was a negligible chance of survival. Officers then worked with Her Majesty's Coastguard to map where a body would end up if it had followed the Ribble estuary into the Irish Sea, with each computer model saying that South Cumbria was a possibility.
DI Chris Wellard, the senior officer covering Brenda's disappearance and search, said there was nothing to suggest foul play or that anyone else had been involved. The inquest heard how there was nothing to suggest Brenda had travelled within Preston after extensive checks with bus and taxi services. He added that it seemed that Brenda had entered the River Ribble "at some location" but that he "could not be sure where".
Brenda's body was found at the South Walney Nature Reserve at Barrow-in-Furness a week after her disappearance, with a Cumbrian police officer first called to the scene. She was identified via her dental records at Lancaster Royal Infirmary. At her inquest, Brenda's cause of death was recorded as drowning. Her toxicology results reported that there was a small amount of alcohol and prescription anti-depressants present in her system.
Mr Williams concluded by saying that Brenda was suffering with depression and that her body was found at the South Walney Nature Reserve at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, on Friday, October 18, 2019 having gone missing from home a week earlier. He reported that she had entered the River Ribble between the hours of 2am and 10am at a place that was that was not witnessed. He added that "her intention cannot be established".
Mr Williams added: "That night or morning the river was in full flow; the 119th highest since records started. And with the temperature of the water there was no prospect of getting out - or suvival."
He said that he was not in a position to say that she had taken her own life as there was no evidence to suggest it was intentional. Addressing Brenda's daughters and husband, Mr Williams added: "It's clear she came from a caring and loving family and it's a tragedy what happened that night or morning. I express my sincere condolences."
Daughter Laura had earlier told the inquest that "we wish we could have done more", to which Mr Williams assured them they had followed all the correct steps in the build up to Brenda's disappearance and death.
"I don't think there is anything you could have done other than what you did," Mr Williams said.