Not waving, but drowning

Kate Watson-Smyth on one woman's determination to die
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Indy Lifestyle Online
TEN weeks ago Jacqueline Leonard walked down to a beach in South Wales and stood looking out to sea.

She chose a quiet spot away from the fishermen and took off the skirt she was wearing over her leggings - she did not want to get dragged under too soon. Then she walked out into the water, until it was up to her waist, and swam out into the Bristol Channel.

The next thing she knew she was waking up in hospital after being pulled to safety by a helicopter crew. Her attempted suicide had failed.

Two days ago her body was found washed up on the same beach where she first walked into the sea. This time there was no one to save her.

Miss Leonard, a 46-year-old divorcee with no family, had been suffering from depression since her marriage broke up in 1980. After her rescue she said she would not try to commit suicide again. It was a promise she would be unable to keep.

"Christmas was a terrible time because I do not have any family to speak of," she said. "I didn't get any cards and felt as if there was no one in the world who cared whether I lived or died."

The day before New Year's Eve, Miss Leonard made up her mind. Slipping out of Sully Hospital, where she was being treated for her depression, she went down to the beach. "I just planned to float about and wait for the outgoing tide to take me to the ocean.

"I rolled onto my back and started doing backstroke. The sun felt warm on my face and I began to feel very calm and at peace."

But the crew of a police helicopter on a training flight were called to the scene after a passer-by saw Miss Leonard floating face down in the water.

The pilot, Angus Paterson, skimmed the craft along the waves as PC Phil Bracegirdle climbed along the landing skids and grabbed hold of Miss Leonard. As they reached the shallow water he gently lowered her and jumped in to give her the kiss of life.

The next day pictures of the rescue were all over the papers. Miss Leonard said: "I realise now it was a stupid thing to do. I am sorry for what I did and have no intention of doing it again." She spoke of moving to Snowdonia and opening an animal sanctuary: "I just want to get out of hospital and stand on my own two feet."

But it was not to be. At some point during the past few days she returned to the beach and waded out to sea for the last time. Her body was found by the same crew who rescued her.

The sense of a woman driven to take her life to such an extent that she ritualistically returned to the place of her first attempt is apparent. According to Dr Mike Nowers, a consultant psychiatrist at Cossham Hospital, Bristol, there is no research into why people return to the same spot.

"There is certainly anecdotal evidence to suggest that they will do so," he said. "I have heard of a case where a woman was rescued from a lake and was then found dead there 18 months later ... But every case has its own circumstances and is unique to that person."

And as with every suicide, the distress of those left behind is all too apparent. Jacqueline Leonard may have had no family, but Graham Plumridge, one of the crew who saved her, said: "It has left us all feeling very sad. It was always a possibility she would try again. Her previous attempt was genuine - she was not attention-seeking."

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