Death of style expert will remain a mystery

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The Independent Online

Sixteen months before his death, John Morgan made a dramatic but perfectly staged suicide attempt. He was found in a silk dressing gown, a glass of champagne and an elegantly composed note at his side.

Sixteen months before his death, John Morgan made a dramatic but perfectly staged suicide attempt. He was found in a silk dressing gown, a glass of champagne and an elegantly composed note at his side.

In sharp contrast, however, the man regarded as one of England's foremost arbiters of sartorial elegance and etiquette eventually died crumpled and half-naked at the bottom of a dirty basement well.

His death, as his life, was characterised by contradiction.

Yesterday, an inquest at Westminster coroner's court failed to clarify whether Mr Morgan, 41, had jumped or fallen from a window of his attic flat in Piccadilly, central London.

His sophisticated yet kind-hearted public persona, the inquest was told, hid a man in turmoil over financial affairs.

Yet his friends remained adamant that the style editor famous for his Savile Row suits and credited with revamping the image of the Conservative leader, William Hague, would not have ended his life in such an undignified fashion.

In returning an open verdict, the coroner, Dr Paul Knapman, said: "There are some powerful features in favour of [a verdict of] suicide. He was very concerned about his financial affairs. He was on anti-depressants anyway and there had been another suicide attempt, or suicide gesture, depending on your point of view.

"And yet there are some features against it as well. I accept what has been said, that it is very likely he would have written a letter of explanation, no doubt on Smythsons paper and he would have dressed properly."

Mr Morgan was born in Sunderland, and graduated from Cheltenham Art School before moving to London. After a stint in public relations and national journalism, he joined Condé Nast as style editor of GQ magazine - a post he held until his death on 9 July. He wrote Debrett's new Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners and a column in The Times.

A man who joked that he was "never knowingly underdressed", he was reputed to own 60 made-to-measure suits, 300 monogrammed shirts and 90 pairs of shoes. He lived in a tiny bachelor flat at Albany Court, behind the Royal Academy.

Yet his particular attention to detail was not reflected inhis finances - which had atone point been in complete disarray. Though his agent, Francine Fletcher, had found him an accountant it was a matter which continued to plague him to the point of depression.

In a statement to the court, his GP, Dr Alan Vincent, said Mr Morgan had made a serious suicide attempt in March 1999, taking an overdose of anti-depressants.

His friends insisted, however, that he would never have done such a thing. Jean Maby said: "My perception of the number of pills he took was that it was grossly exaggerated by him. It was a dramatic cry for help. It was too staged. It was too elegantly done to be serious." She was convinced, as were other friends, that he had fallen from his bathroom window while trying to get some air during one of the asthma attacks from which he suffered.

Mrs Fletcher insisted: "John loved life. He would not have bought so many beautiful things if he didn't love life."

She added: "All people knew he was quite vain about his appearance. If he was contemplating taking his own life he would want to be dressed in a dignified way."

Yet she admitted that in the days before his death Mr Morgan had been "in a flap" once again about finances and, in particular, his decision to buy a flat in Cadogan Square. "He was very distressed and had gone off the idea of buying. He was terrified he would get behind with payments," she said.

Detective Inspector David Morgan told the inquest he was convinced, from the location of the body and the fact that the dead man's flat had been locked from the inside, that Mr Morgan had jumped from the bathroom window.

Dr Knapman said he could not be sure. He added: "John Morgan played a significant part in encouraging good manners at the present time when this does not seem to be so fashionable, unfortunately.

"He will be missed, not only by those who knew him personally but also by those who felt they knew him through his written words in all their elegant, fastidious detail."