THE circumstances surrounding the death of a Bournemouth woman remain a mystery following an inquest.

A hearing into the death of 67-year-old Jean Margaret Lea was held at Bournemouth Coroner’s Court yesterday where an open conclusion was reached by coroner Brendan Allen.

Mrs Lea’s body was discovered in the River Stour at Christchurch on January 22, ten months after she was reported missing from her home in Meadow View Road in Bearwood.

Her sister, Hannah Heal, told the inquest she and her husband had visited Mrs Lea the night of her disappearance following a phone call where she had been “very agitated” and “said she was dying”. “We went straight round and Jean wasn’t making a lot of sense. I believe Jean thought she had cancer,” Mrs Heal said.

She added Mrs Lea eventually appeared to be asleep but, after returning home, they received a phone call from her husband, Mike, saying he could not find her.

She had been showing signs of confusion on previous occasions, Mrs Heal said, and missed a family occasion which was “out of character”.

Mr Allen read out a statement by Dr Clare Davies of Banks and Bearwood Medical Practice, which revealed Mrs Lea had suffered a fever and a chest infection in February 2017 but was recovering with antibiotics. However “stress was the main issue in her life”, Dr Davies said.

Mr Allen asked Mrs Heal if she thought her sister had deliberately harmed herself. She said: “That would be very out of character. I know she would never have taken her life.”

She added: “I believe Jean was having a mental breakdown or episode that night. I was going to follow it up with her GP.”

Mrs Lea was reported missing on March 26, and police subsequently carried out extensive searches of the conurbation and the River Stour, which is a 10-15 minute walk from her house.

PC David Taylor, police search co-ordinator, told the inquest she was last seen on CCTV in Meadow View Road, but there were no other sightings of her until her body was found by fishermen, miles downstream from where she is believed to have entered the water.

Mr Allen said a post-mortem examination carried out on January 13 had been unable to ascertain a cause of death due to “extensive decomposition”. He said there was insufficient evidence to record a conclusion of suicide. “It’s difficult to determine where, when and how she died.”

“In the days preceding her death, she suffered memory loss, agitation and confusion. I don’t know if she accidentally fell in the water or had a medical event near to the water,” he added.

Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Heal described her sister, a retired Tesco worker, as an “important member of her family, loved by all”.

“She was known in her community, especially by dog walkers. She also liked to feed the horses at Longham.

“She will be missed by all her family.”

She also praised the “exemplary” work of Dorset Police “who pulled out all the stops” in their search for Mrs Lea and support of her family.