Bridgend woman found hanging after friends' suicides

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The Independent Online

An aspiring police officer from a town blighted by suicide was found hanging from a shower just hours after her cousin killed himself, an inquest heard today.

Kelly Stephenson, 20, from Bridgend, South Wales, was also mourning the suicide of an ex-boyfriend and two other friends when she died while visiting her uncle, Matthew Bell, in Folkestone, Kent, it emerged.

Her inquest, at Ashford Magistrates' Court, heard how she had been laughing and joking with Mr Bell's partner during a night out on the evening of her death.

The "bubbly" hotel worker, who played football for a local club, was last heard shouting: "Open the Tia Maria."

But when she failed to reappear from the bathroom, her uncle found her hanging unconscious.

Mr Bell described how she had previously been in good spirits and may have been just attention-seeking.

He added: "I personally think she wanted someone to find her before she actually died."

A South Wales Police statement revealed that she had recently told her mother she was planning to apply to join the local constabulary.

Miss Stephenson, who lived with her grandmother in the Cefn Glas area, was one of 23 suspected suicides linked to the town since January last year.

The inquest heard how she died after finding out that Nathaniel Pritchard, 15, had tried to take his own life by apparently harming himself.

A statement from Detective Sergeant Christopher Benson said the pair were "very close" and had lived at a family home together in 2006.

In January last year - just a month before her own death - she had also been at the funeral of her ex-boyfriend, Liam Clarke, 20.

Daniel Setter, from Folkestone, described how, despite her bad news, she had been in buoyant spirits.

Remembering the night she died, Mr Setter, the partner of Miss Stephenson's uncle, said: "When we got out the taxi we were laughing and joking.

"We had a race to see who could get to the door first.

"There was absolutely nothing wrong with her at that point."

Rachel Redman, Coroner for Central and South East Kent, said police reports showed Miss Stephenson had been drinking wine during a meal out and had gone on to have shots and vodka mixer drinks.

Before recording her verdict, she said: "I believe it was a deliberate act but I also think her judgment was affected by the amount of alcohol that was in her system."

She later recorded an open verdict after saying she was "bewildered" by the spate of deaths in Bridgend.

Reports that Miss Stephenson's hanging - along with other deaths in her home town - was connected with social networking websites were "unfounded", Mr Benson said.

After pathologist David Rouse said she had died by "suspension", Ms Redman said: "I would feel very uneasy to return a suicide verdict.

"I remain bewildered as to what has caused Kelly to end her life.

"The only verdict available to me is that of an open one."

Miss Stephenson's uncle - who was the only family member present at the hearing - declined to comment as he left.