The body of a reclusive woman was eaten by her own cats as she lay undiscovered in her home for several weeks, an inquest has heard.
Janet Veal’s body was found with parts “gnawed and eaten” by animals that had been left without food for up to three months.
Neighbours initially raised the alarm after noticing a mail build-up in the 56-year-old’s letterbox, and realising they hadn’t seen her for some time.
Southampton Coroner’s Court heard how police officers gained entrance to the building via an unsecured upstairs window and quickly noticed the floors were covered in rubbish and rooms hadn’t been aired in months.
PC Dave Ivey said that, although he encountered a number of animals as he moved onto the ground floor of the building, the majority of dogs and cats he discovered were already dead.
In the kitchen he finally discovered the partially eaten body of Mrs Veal.
Coroner Keith Wiseman said: “These animals had been, the officer thought, confined in these two rooms downstairs for what may well have been a period of many weeks, stretching quite possibly into several months.”
He added: “This too was a distressing experience because it was clear that certain parts of Mrs Veal’s body were missing and had, the officer formed the view, effectively been gnawed and eaten away by the animals.”
Mr Wiseman went on to say: “One can only imagine the difficulty with the scene the officer was having to deal with”.
Mrs Veal’s husband is thought to have left the family home the previous year, and neighbours described her as reclusive.
Her medical record revealed a history of chest problems over recent years and, although an autopsy proved “extremely difficult” due to the extent of decomposition, pathologist Dr Vipul Foria concluded that the death was “possibly” due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Ruling a death from natural causes, Mr Wiseman said: “Exactly what happened to render Mrs Veal unable to assist herself or get any kind of help is unclear.
Obviously one or other of the chest conditions might have disabled her but it is not at all clear.”
Describing Mrs Veal as an animal lover, Mr Wiseman added: “There is no indication otherwise and no suggestion, if I can go to the complete extreme, any suggestion that she had been in any way attacked by the animals while she was alive.
He went on to say: “Given the background history and findings I am prepared to find on the balance of probabilities this was sadly a natural death that led to really very untoward consequences because of the inability of Mrs Veal to get any assistance for herself and to be confined in the way that she was in this property with a number of animals that had not been fed for quite a long period of time.”