A young woman who police initially thought had been murdered died from the effects of drugs.
But her “control freak” partner hindered inquiries into her death, an inquest heard.
Claire Lucas died in July 2018 aged 25. Police launched a murder inquiry after her body was discovered in her flat on Fourth Avenue, York.
Her boyfriend, Daniel Heath, then 35, was arrested on suspicion of murder but later released. However he was subsequently charged with concealing her death.
An inquest today (Wednesday, 16 December) ruled that Miss Lucas died as a result of taking cocaine, following her “stormy” relationship with Mr Heath.
The inquest, at Northallerton, heard that Miss Lucas last communicated with a friend at 9pm on Satuday, 30 June.
Police were initially contacted by colleagues at the nursery where Miss Lucas worked in Clifton. They were concerned when she failed to show up for work.
Her brother Adrian Bulmer was also concerned and arrived at her flat at the same time as two police officers.
In a statement read out by assistant coroner Richard Watson, PC Annabelle Lumley-Holmes said the officers obtained the keys from Churchill estate agents.
She smelled “something peculiar” in the corridor outside the flat, and when no one responded to their knock, they let themselves in.
They discovered Miss Lucas’s body on the bed covered by a duvet. A paramedic was called, who confirmed she was dead – and was likely to have died at least 24 hours earlier.
There were no signs of a struggle in the flat. There were also no signs of Miss Lucas’s keys.
‘Occasional’ drug use
A post mortem, carried out at York Hospital by Dr Jennifer Bolton, found minor abrasions and bruises on her body, and an internal examination discovered “nothing untoward”.
There were no injuries or diseases that would account for her death, the inquest heard.
A toxicology report on Miss Lucas found cocaine in her blood, and that she was “likely to have been experiencing stimulation by cocaine before she died”.
A subsequent analysis of hair samples found levels of cocaine which suggested “occasional use” over the previous six months.
In a statement GP Dr Jane Maloney, of the Priory Medical Group, said Miss Lucas was prescribed an anti-depressant after a consultation in September 2017 where she talked about suffering from anxiety, struggling to sleep, and being scared to be alone.
Partner ‘stalking her’
In his statement, her brother Adrian described Miss Lucas’s on-off relationship with Daniel Heath over two years.
He said they would argue, and they blamed these arguments on Mr Heath’s bipolar condition.
Mr Bulmer said Claire stopped socialising with her friends after entering the relationship with Mr Heath. But she went to a party after breaking up with him in July 2017.
There she showed bruises, including one on her back “that looked as though a bowling ball had hit her”. She said Mr Heath had caused the bruising.
But she returned to him soon afterwards.
“He was convinced she was seeing another man,” Mr Bulmer said of Mr Heath. “He always had to know where she was.
“Danny was a massive control freak.” He described him as paranoid and jealous.
Mr Bulmer said he didn’t believe his sister was seeing anyone else. He said after one break-up Mr Heath was “stalking her”. When she changed the locks on her flat, he threatened to get a ladder to enter via the windows.
Speaking via video link, Det Chief Inspector Fiona Wynne, based at Fulford Road police station in York, said the circumstances around Miss Lucas’s death “aroused suspicions”.
“It was a very warm weekend. She had evidently been lying there for some time.”
CCTV showed Daniel Heath had been “in and out of that flat across the weekend”.
The windows were closed and she was under the duvet despite the heat. She was locked inside, and Mr Heath was the only person with the key.
Because of the circumstances, Miss Lucas’s body had decomposed to the point where it was very difficult for the post mortem alone to provide cause of death.
That meant waiting for the results of the hair sample toxicology reports which took some considerable time, adding to the distress of her family.
Must have known
Mr Heath was charged with failing to notify the coroner of her death, preventing a lawful burial, and stealing £200 from her by using her card after her death.
“Investigations concluded he must have know that Claire Lucas was deceased, and been in and out of that flat knowing she had died,” Det Ch Insp Wynne said.
Mr Heath was due to stand trial until his death in August 2019.
At the end of the inquest, assistant coroner Richard Watson said: “We have heard evidence that Claire was in a stormy relationship with partner Daniel Heath.”
He said: “The medical cause of death is established as the effects of cocaine.
“I am satisfied on the evidence today that Claire’s death was drug related.
“I would like to extend my condolences to the family.
“It’s a tragedy that somebody lost their life to drugs at such an early age.”