Milton Keynes coroner questions why social services did not investigate after disabled couple died together at home

Valerie and Edward McLaren
Valerie and Edward McLaren
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An independent couple who were married for 55 years may have been dead in their home for up to two weeks, a coroner heard today.

The decomposing bodies of Edward and Valerie McLaren, who were both disabled, were discovered by police after family members raised concerns when they were unable to contact them.

The “stubborn” couple imposed strict rules on calls and visits from family and refused all offers of help from social services so as to retain their independence, fearing they would be split up and sent to care homes.

An inquest in Milton Keynes ruled they both died from natural causes, although the exact cause of their deaths could not be ascertained due to the level of decomposition.

Tom Osborne, Milton Keynes coroner, said that although the couple’s stubbornness meant nothing more could have been done to prevent their deaths, he questioned why social services chose not to investigate further after they were found.

The inquest heard Mrs McLaren, aged 72 years and known by her middle name Mary, acted as a carer for Edward, aged 73 years, who had diabetes and had suffered several strokes. He was wheelchair-bound and unable to speak.

Despite being paralysed from the waist down and needing a wheelchair herself, Mrs McLaren cooked, cleaned and cared for her husband, refusing offers from Milton Keynes Council social services for meals on wheels, laundry services or a home help.

Annelise Aitchison, the couple’s eldest daughter, said: “Dad was very determined, they had chosen their own way and they didn’t want any help or anybody to come in to help.

“They wanted to be independent and just have the family come in.”

She said family visits were only allowed by prior arrangement, with phone calls to their home permitted at set times when Mrs McLaren would plug in their landline.

“I used to visit every couple of weeks as I live on the other side of Milton Keynes and it is not easy by taxi,” said Mrs Aitchison, who is also in a wheelchair.

Mr McLaren attended 19 appointments with his GP in the year before his death and the couple were regularly visited at their three-bedroomed bungalow in Hills Close, Great Linford, by social services and district nurse Michelle Taylor.

“During visits we asked if they needed any help and the answer was always no,” said Mrs Taylor.

“Nobody ever felt they had concerns they felt needed to be escalated as a safeguarding issue.”

The couple were last seen by son-in-law Keith Aitchison during a visit on April 27. When the family were unable to contact them on May 9, Thames Valley Police visited the home and entered using the family’s key.

Detective Constable Philip Walsh told the inquest Mr McLaren was found lying in the doorway to one bedroom, naked from the waist down and with a pool of dried blood from a cut to his head. His wife was found in a second bedroom, fully clothed but decomposing, lying on her back in bed.

“Mary had possibly suffered an epileptic fit and passed away prior to Edward,” he said.

“He was wheelchair-bound and it appeared he may have been in bed. We felt he had made efforts to get out of bed himself, resulting in him falling and ending up on the floor after hitting his head.”

A post-mortem examination, hampered by decomposition, was unable to provide definitive answers as to the cause of both deaths, but pathologist Caroline Graham said Mrs McLaren may have had a blood clot in her lung. She recorded that both died from natural causes.

Loretta Carr, team manager of support brokerage and reviewing team at Milton Keynes Council, said no serious incident review had been carried out in the wake of their deaths, but she was unable to say why that decision was made.

Mr Osborne concluded that both Mr and Mrs McLaren died from natural causes.

“They were fiercely independent, they had been married for 55 years and what they wanted above all else was to stay together,” he said.

“I don’t seek to criticise anyone from social services that was providing the care that was offered.

“While we may feel that the decision to refuse support by Mary and Edward was unwise, they were free and had the capacity to make that decision.”

However, Mr Osborne said he would be writing a letter to the chief executive of Milton Keynes social services to ask why no investigation or review was carried out after their deaths.

“When two elderly people in our community in Milton Keynes have died together in their home and were discovered as decomposing bodies, where social services was involved, I find it incomprehensible that a thorough investigation by social services did not take place,” he said.

Speaking after the hearing, Mrs Aitchison described her parents as “very stubborn.”

“They were very concerned about being separated, being put in two different care homes. They were worried about that and that’s the reason they said they wanted to be together,” she said.

“I think there should have been a little more of a review to say that (social services) couldn’t do anything. There was nothing the council or anybody else could do.

“They would have liked to have left this world together and they got it.”