'I'm baffled why my best friend Kathy leapt to her death'

What makes a successful lawyer jump from a hotel ledge? Here her close friends reveal their confusion
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There was nothing extraordinary about the London street. White mansion blocks, a number of them turned into hotels, continued as far as the eye could see, and lines of traffic ploughed past, black cabs touting for trade. Within an hour, workers would be out of their offices in search of a sandwich on their first day back after the holidays.

Then someone looked up. There, standing on the window ledge of the fourth floor of an elegant hotel, was a woman. The police were immediately called. But, in what seemed like a moment of madness, Kathy Ward, a highly successful, attractive and popular lawyer, leapt 100ft to her death. The horror of her suicide was made even more public by it being captured by a passing photographer, the macabre image showing her plummeting past the hotel windows, her hair flying.

But to the distraught 52-year-old, her own actions made perfect sense. Undoubtedly she believed that the only way to escape her troubles was to die, and what more certain way than jumping from four floors?

Yet to her family and loved ones, Miss Ward's actions were entirely incomprehensible. Why would a woman who seemed to have everything end it all in such a brutal fashion? Was there a problem with money? Had there been a painful love affair? Was it loneliness? Was it pressure of work?

Keith Oliver, who described Miss Ward as one of his "closest and dearest friends", told The Independent on Sunday he had no idea what it was that she could no longer tolerate. "I spoke to her on New Year's Day and she was very happy. There was no indication of any kind of personal unhappiness," he said. Another friend, Ed Hood, who spoke to the "warm and bubbly" lawyer just before Christmas to arrange a drink, agreed: "People are saying someone must understand why or someone must have seen it coming. Absolutely not." He continued: "Everyone who met her remembered her. It was a combination of her attributes. She was immaculately turned out at all times, fiercely intelligent, funny, great company, outgoing. She had it all."

Certainly there were no money worries. Born in California, she trained as an attorney before moving in the mid-Eighties to Britain, where she qualified in corporate law. Since 1997, she had been working for Rolls-Royce Power Ventures, a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce. As head of the legal department, Miss Ward, who became a British citizen five years ago, earned a six-figure salary.

It bought her a comfortable lifestyle. Home was a smart £650,000 one-bedroom flat in a white mansion block in Onslow Gardens, South Kensington, west London. She was excited about plans to buy a three-bedroom flat in the area and rent out her current property.

Nor does it appear that her troubles were due to a broken heart. Mr Oliver, a senior partner for the law firm Peters & Peters, who has known Miss Ward for 20 years, said he wasn't aware that she was dating anyone. She had married and divorced while in America and had no children. Mr Hood, a partner for the law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said reports that she was upset about her divorce were "complete nonsense".

She enjoyed a full social life that included attending many of the social functions held by the International Bar Association and the Society of English and American Lawyers, in both of which she was a member. Her salary enabled her to follow her passion for travelling. There were also nights at the ballet and theatre, and trips to the Cotswolds. But her biggest joy was Manchester United. She and Mr Oliver had been to a semi-final and a cup final together, andthey saw the team play in Milan and Prague last year . The friends were looking forward to going to the World Cup this summer.

Her friends in the profession described her as a brilliant lawyer. A spokeswoman for Rolls-Royce said: "Everyone in the company who worked with her is deeply shocked. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time. Rolls-Royce will do everything to assist with the necessary arrangements that must now follow."

Miss Ward appeared to have planned her death carefully. She arrived at Jurys Hotel in South Kensington late on Monday night. It is a three-minute walk from her home, past rows of identical white mansion blocks. In the elegant lounge adjacent to the lobby, notices on the polished tables advertised a special Christmas offer of a bottle of Mercier Brut champagne for £25.95. She paid up front for her £200 room on the fourth floor, where she stayed until the following morning.

At 12.02pm the following day, police were called by a member of the public who saw her on the fourth-floor window ledge dressed in black trousers and a blue top. The Ambulance Service arrived, as did police officers, one of whom tried to talk to her from a nearby window. But at 12.17 she jumped.

Jon Bushell, 39, a news agency photographer, was walking past on his way back to the office after popping out for a coffee. His first picture was of Miss Ward standing on the ledge, her hand across her stomach. "I just took a few photos thinking everything would be OK," he said. "Without me realising it she jumped off. I never thought she was going to do it. I thought it was just a cry for help and she would go back inside because the policeman was talking to her. I didn't know I actually had the photo [of her falling]. I went to do one shot of the whole building and without realising got the shot. The next thing I heard was a bang and I thought 'my God'. I couldn't believe it. I just left. I couldn't take it any more. It's very sad. Every day since it happened I've had a flashback every 10 minutes to half an hour. It's really quite traumatic. In some ways I wish I hadn't taken the photo now. I feel awful."

But Mr Bushell's distress is nothing compared to that felt by Miss Ward's family and friends. Keith Oliver will now have to go and see Manchester United without her. But it won't be the same. Ed Hood will no longer meet the bubbly American at legal society functions. Her father will be without her on his 90th birthday. All those who loved and respected Katherine Ward - of whom there were many - will feel the weight of her loss. And all of them will struggle with the one unanswered question - why?