Mystery of 'woman who died twice'

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The Independent Online
FELICIA DANIEL was at first prepared to believe that the ashes in Medway crematorium belonged to her daughter. Then she read the pathologist's report and realised the dead woman could not be Donna.

Miss Daniel, who manages a pub in Bradford, is now fighting to discover the truth about her missing daughter, and to discover the identity of the mystery woman who took Donna's identity.

The Attorney General's office told her that it will order a judicial review of her daughter's inquest if Miss Daniel can obtain new witness statements and another pathology report proving there has been a case of mistaken identity.

Inquest, a national organisation for bereaved families, is backing Miss Daniel's case and is calling on the Government to make it easier for families to challenge inquest verdicts.

Miss Daniel spent five years looking for her daughter after they lost touch when Donna moved from Yorkshire to London. She eventually contacted the Salvation Army, which informed her earlier this year that Donna had died in a women's refuge in Kent in 1993.

But Miss Daniel quickly realised the details in the pathologist's report did not match her daughter's description. The dead woman was described as 5ft 4ins tall, with tattoos on her arms, was never pregnant and had died of an asthma attack after taking methadone. Donna was 5ft 8ins tall, had no tattoos on her arm, had had twins and had never been a drug user.

In another twist, Miss Daniel discovered that Donna's DSS passbook had been used to withdraw money the day after she was supposed to have died. Also, staff at the refuge said the woman they had known as Donna bore no resemblance to photographs which Miss Daniel showed them.

The coroners who carried out the inquest on the dead woman and ordered the cremation are now in prison. Lionel Skingley, the former North Kent coroner, and his deputy, Geoffrey Hufton, were sentenced to a total of six and a half years last May for stealing pounds 1.5m from clients who used their law practice.

Miss Daniel, who has sold most of her property to fund her legal campaign, does have one lead. She has traced the young woman who identified the dead woman in the mortuary as Donna and hopes that she can solve the mystery.

In the meantime, Ms Daniel cannot grieve until she knows that her daughter really is dead. "I was prepared to believe that Donna was dead until I read the pathologist's report and spoke to people at the refuge," she said. "Now I will not rest until I find out what happened. Whoever the body is, it belongs to someone and their family has a right to know their daughter is dead. I want to have the inquest reopened for this reason."

Inquest said changes needed to be made in the system by which coroners investigate sudden deaths, especially when inquests are carried out without the presence of relatives.

"This is an unusual situation but we deal with cases all the time where relatives are not satisfied with verdicts," said a spokeswoman. "We are concerned with the way the system deals with deaths of people who are outside society."

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office said cases like Ms Daniel's were reopened only if it was deemed necessary in the interests of justice, and that it would consider a judicial review if Ms Daniel could provide fresh evidence.