LONDON: A woman lay dead for more than two years with her television still on before she was discovered by a housing officer inquiring about overdue rent, an inquest has heard.
Joyce Vincent, 40, who once worked for the advertising agency Saatchi &Saatchi, was found in January this year in the main room of her tiny north London flat, surrounded by unopened Christmas presents and with the heating still running.
Hornsey Coroners Court heard that relatives and neighbours had failed to raise the alarm.
“This is a real tragedy and a very upsetting case,” investigating officer Detective Inspector Michael Ainslie told the family in court.
The discovery was made when an officer from the local housing authority, the Metropolitan Housing Trust, took a locksmith to the flat after thousands of pounds of rent arrears had accumulated.
They drilled open the front door to find a huge pile of unopened mail, the earliest dated November 2003. Medication in Vincent’s name with a 2003 expiry date was also found.
Local Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone said: “First of all, we have to ask, where was everybody?
“It’s tragic that there were no friends or family there. There should have been a number of authorities involved in Ms Vincent’s life.
“Someone should have been asking why her rent wasn’t paid. Where were social services? How did this poor lady fall through the safety net?
“This case shows the need for a human checking process. It just shouldn’t happen in this day and age.
“In the city of London you will get a lot of people living alone and living their own lives. This is a reminder to all of us all that we should look out for our neighbours.”
The Anglican Bishop of Willesden, the Right Reverend Peter Broadbent, said: “I think in London we have an issue about the fact that neighbourhood is not as real as it used to be and we need to work at how we build a society where we know our neighbours.
“We should know the person who lives next to us as well as the person we work with or socialise with.”
A housing association spokesman said: “As housing benefit was in part paying the rent we only became aware of the problem when the rent fell significantly into arrears.
“We’d like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family.”
Simon Uranie, who lived close to Vincent’s flat in Wood Green, said: “I am appalled to hear what happened. This is a huge block of 200 flats. A lot of people live here on their own. Everyone keeps to themselves.”
Another neighbour, Ngosi Tobin, said: “I think it’s terrible. I only know a few neighbours and I hardly see them.
“In other countries people know their neighbours but here they don’t. It is so sad but it is easy to see how it would happen.”
Pathologist Simon Poole told the court Vincent’s body was so badly decomposed that she had to be identified by dental records, using a photograph of her smiling for reference.
He added that the state of the body made it impossible to ascertain the cause of death given that the remains were “largely skeletal”.
Detectives told the inquest that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. The coroner recorded an open verdict.
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