MP 'was worried over tarnished television image': Coroner records misadventure verdict on Milligan

STEPHEN MILLIGAN, the Conservative MP, spent his final two days concerned about a BBC Television programme which he felt had portrayed him unfairly and damaged the image of his constituency, an inquest was told yesterday.

But Dr John Burton, the Hammersmith and Fulham coroner, said there had been no evidence that the MP for Eastleigh, Hampshire, had taken his own life or that anyone else was involved. He concluded that Mr Milligan had suffocated himself accidentally in the early hours of Sunday 7 February. There were no drugs or alcohol in his blood.

The inquest was told that Mr Milligan, 45, was found dead on the kitchen table at his west London home, with his clothes on the floor. A cord was around his neck and tied to his feet, his head was covered and there was an orange in his mouth. Police searching the house discovered no pornographic material, which the coroner said was 'often found in these cases'.

Dr Iain West, a Home Office pathologist, said Mr Milligan died through using a home- made apparatus which was meant to constrict the main artery in his neck. Compression of the artery could have made Mr Milligan faint after which he would 'be unable to regain consciousness and would be unable to free himself'.

Dr Burton described it as a 'tragic and entirely personal case', and warned of the extreme danger of carrying out solitary sexual acts which involved pressure on the neck.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, he said he saw two or three similar cases each year.

Vera Taggart, the MP's secretary, told the inquest she had met him at the Commons on 5 February. The previous night the documentary about employment in Eastleigh had been broadcast. Knowing he had helped to make it she had asked him how it had gone.

'He was concerned it had appeared to be less balanced than he had thought it would be. He thought it showed his constituency in a negative light,' she said. But she insisted he had not been suicidal, and had taken part in a debate in the Commons that day.

She had asked Mr Milligan if he had any plans for the weekend. 'He said he had no plans but expected to discuss the programme with his family and would see me on the Monday,' she said.

He would normally arrive at the Commons at 10.30am on Monday mornings unless he had rung to tell her. This time he did not arrive, and she had tried to find if he had a meeting she did not know about, but constituency officials did not know of any.

By 2.30pm when the House began sitting, his car was still not in the car park. She left a message on his answerphone. Finally she drove to his house, and found his car outside, the front curtains drawn and milk on the doorstep. She was worried because it was out of character for him to miss the start of the Commons, and wondered if he had had trouble sleeping, taken sleeping pills and overslept. 'It was so uncharacteristic for him not to be at the House of Commons that I felt something completely out of the ordinary had happened,' she said.

She telephoned a friend of the MP, who had told her where to find a hidden key and let herself in. 'The Sunday papers were on the floor, covered by some post.' There were lights on in the kitchen. 'There was somebody lying on the table and I could not at first see who it was. I rang 999,' she said.

Penny Wrout, a BBC journalist, said she had known Mr Milligan since working for the BBC in the region which covered his constituency. When he had been asked before Christmas to make the television programme, about where new jobs would come from, he had discussed it with her, and on her advice asked the producer to write the terms of reference down in detail.

She said he had telephoned her out of the blue on the Saturday evening at about 7.30pm. When she had asked him how he was he had said he had had a bad couple of days.

She told the inquest that he said he had not slept and he was worrying about it. By the time he called her, he had already telephoned a senior BBC manager to complain about the programme, and the manager had promised an inquiry.

'At the time I was cooking supper and because he wanted to talk more I asked him to come over and have something to eat,' Ms Wrout said. He had arrived about 8.30pm, and was 'preoccupied and a bit subdued'. They had talked for a long time about the programme, then about politics. She said the MP 'had a small gin and tonic and a couple of glasses of wine' and was feeling much more cheerful when he left at about 11.30pm.

'One reason I felt suicide was not the case here was because I didn't think he was anywhere near depressed enough to kill himself. He was talking about a forthcoming ministerial trip to Paris and projecting into the future.'

Asked what had upset him about the programme, she said she thought he may have felt it made him look a little foolish and may have felt he had made some sort of mistake by doing the film.

(Photograph omitted)

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