Neighbours describe the 'perfect' friendly family

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Church Hill is, as one local remarks, is "neither the best nor the worst part" of Redditch. It's the sort of area where people stop and say hello, and those who didn't know her name would have known Heather Wardle and her family by sight.

Their home is in the middle of a row of squat, red-brick houses at the end of Loxley Close, a quiet cul-de-sac. Ms Wardle lived with her partner, Brian Kirby, 36, their boys Callum, eight, and Luke, six, and Ms Wardle's sons James and Daniel. She and Mr Kirby, a toolroom supervisor, had been together ever since she moved in next door to his sister almost 16 years ago.

Caring for James, who was unable to do anything for himself, was a 24-hour job and, according to a family friend, he would often require attention in the night. He also needed frequent medication for epilepsy.

That didn't stop the family from enjoying life. With the help of close friends, they visited many attractions such as Alton Towers and Twycross Zoo.

Teachers at Pitcheroak School, the mixed special school that James attended until he turned 18, remember a boy who, despite his severe learning difficulties, expressed himself with smiles and laughter. "He loved the interaction that was given him by staff and pupils and was a very happy pupil," said Steve Freer, the headteacher.

During James' school years, his mother worked for an engineering company and, in recent months, she was said to have been considering a return to work as a respite carer. Her experience with James would have prepared her well.

No one in Loxley Close had noticed any outward signs of the family stresses involved in caring for someone with severe disabilities. Ms Wardle's family, they say, was "perfect". Her two youngest sons could often be seen playing outside with other children and she took care to see they were always pleasant, well turned out and never allowed to run wild. But sometimes, other children would anger her by making fun of James. "Maybe," suggested Neil Wilkes, a neighbour, "it all got too much for her."

Among Britain's carer population of six million, women with adult, disabled sons are the most vulnerable to psychological distress. Police investigating the case have spoken of the "pressures" of care that were placed on Ms Wardle.

About 10 days ago, Linda Parkes, a neighbour and member of staff at at a nearby mental health hospital, came across Ms Wardle in some distress. At first, she recalled, she thought she may have been suffering from a headache but something appeared to be bothering her and she seemed to be talking to herself. "I expected to go back to work and find her on the ward," said Ms Parkes.

"I used to see James dropped off at home every afternoon in a special needs van and helped to the house by two people." Ms Parkes remembered. But she said she and other neighbours, could not recall seeing James for some weeks before he was reported missing. The family, sources suggest, had dispensed with the support of social services months ago.

The prevailing wisdom, before Wednesday's arrests, was that Ms Wardle simply couldn't take it any more; that she had been involved in a mercy killing of her son, and had then been unable to live with herself.