A MAN who drowned in the sea near Highcliffe was worried about a mortgage, an inquest heard.

Alfred Frank Oakley, known to friends and family as Frank or Frankie, was found dead on the beach near Highcliffe Castle on the morning of December 10 last year.

The 89-year-old's body was discovered by dog walker Susan Doig, who said in a statement to police: "Originally I thought it was some type of manikin or dummy half concealed in the sand. As I got near where it lay I realised it was a man, a human being."

Paramedics arrived and moved Mr Oakley's body off the beach due to the stormy weather. He was pronounced dead at the scene and police began an investigation.

Mr Oakley's wife Pauline learned the news as she called police to report a missing person later that day.

Also in a statement, Mrs Oakley revealed that her husband had been very much affected by a letter received days earlier from his son of a previous marriage.

The son, Philip, owned the bungalow they lived in in Highcliffe, and wanted them to re-mortgage it.

"Frank was a proud man, he kept saying that he had let me down," said Mrs Oakley.

"He didn't want the neighbours to know we didn't own our own home.

"He was quite upset.

"I said we could rent somewhere and it didn't matter as long as we have each other."

Mrs Oakley said she had last seen her husband in the early hours of December 10 when he refilled her hot water bottle.

"I remember he said 'I love you' and I said 'I love you too'," she said.

"The next morning his bedroom was empty and his bed was made. The breakfast things were set out as usual and tea was brewing in the pot. His slippers were by the front door."

A pathologist found that Mr Oakley drowned, and police found no evidence of a crime.

Dorset assistant coroner Brendan Allen recorded an open verdict. He said: "Did he deliberately seek to end his life? On the evidence I have before me I am not even sure beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Oakley entered the water deliberately.

"The weather was bad on that morning and he may have been for a walk and been swept into the sea."

In her statement, Mrs Oakley said the pair had grown up together in Coventry before meeting up later in life. "It was a total coincidence but I thought it seemed like something that was meant to be," she said.

Mr Oakley had served as a driver during the Nuremberg Trials in Germany on his National Service. By profession he was an agricultural engineer until retirement, but he continued gardening and helping neighbours in Highcliffe by tending their homes when they were away.