Police free pair held over disabled man's death

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The Independent Online

Two people arrested on suspicion of murdering disabled James Hughes were released without charge today.

His stepfather Brian Kirby and a youth were detained on Wednesday following the discovery of Mr Hughes's body at the family home in Redditch, Worcestershire.

Earlier this week, his mother Heather Wardle, 39, was found dead in woodland nearby.

James was severely disabled and was reported missing at the same time as his mother on Saturday. Neighbours said he had not been seen for some weeks.

Superintendent Jane Horwood, of West Mercia Constabulary, said: "I can confirm that both people in custody have been released without charges this afternoon. They have both co-operated fully with our inquiries.

"Our investigation into the deaths of Heather Wardle and James Hughes are continuing and forensic examinations of the family home at Loxley Close are ongoing.

"We would ask that the media refrain from any further speculation that could hinder the investigation of this case or cause distress to the family."

James Hughes was found dead at the home he shared with his mother Heather Wardle and stepfather in Redditch, Worcestershire, on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Ms Wardle, 39, was found dead in woodland nearby.

Mr Hughes was severely disabled and was reported missing at the same time as his mother on Saturday, though neighbours said he had not been seen for some weeks.

His stepfather, Brian Kirby, and a youth were arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery of the body, but were released without charge today.

Mr Hughes senior, who does not have any other children, said that until recently he had enjoyed regular contact with his son, seeing him several times a week.

He described him as very tactile and added that he was fascinated by food, having a particular fondness for pizza and bananas, and loved swimming and being outdoors.

"He liked to touch and taste everything," he said.

"He was a happy-go-lucky soul and always had a smile on his face. He brought out the best in people he met, which is why I think it's affected so many people the way it has."

Mr Hughes, who lives in Redditch with his wife Debbie, said people he had not heard from in 15 years had called to console him over James's death.

"Although he was 22 James retained the innocence of childhood and he was very, very precious," he said.

Mr Hughes said he had an awful feeling something terrible had happened to James as soon as he found out about his former wife's death.

The news of his son's death had left him "devastated and gutted".

"He was irreplaceable and it's left a massive hole in my life," he said.

Forensic examinations at the home Ms Wardle and Mr Kirby shared are continuing, police said, but it may be weeks before they are able to determine how Mr Hughes died.

Detectives are waiting for forensic test results after a post-mortem examination failed to establish the cause of death.

In a statement earlier today, Ms Horwood said: "Dental records have confirmed the body found at the family home in Loxley Close, Church Hill, on Wednesday was that of James."

Ms Wardle had left home last Friday evening, saying she was going to visit a friend, police said.

Her body was found less than half a mile away in dense undergrowth off Winyates Way, Church Hill, on Monday.

She was found at the base of a tree with a ligature around her neck and her death continues to be treated as unexplained.

Police are still refusing to comment on reports that Mr Hughes might have been dead for several weeks or even months before his body was found.

Officers have also refused to confirm speculation among local people that Mr Hughes' body was discovered in a suitcase hidden in the garden of the Loxley Close house.

Officers were carrying out checks in the Church Hill area into this evening, a week after Ms Wardle went missing.

Anyone with information which could assist the inquiry is asked to contact Redditch Police on 08457 444 888 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.