Family's torment over mystery deaths of mother and baby

It was impossible to say who died first, the inquest heard

The cause of death of a mother and four month old baby who lay undiscovered for up to three weeks in their home remains unclear following an inquest, leaving their "devastated" family in torment.

Former straight-A student Joanne Thomas, 27, was found in bed with Harper at their Merthyr home in July.

Harper had previously been on the "at risk register" due to a volatile relationship Ms Thomas had been in.

But relatives said she had just moved and started to turn her life around.

Acting coroner Andrew Barkley, who recorded an open verdict at the inquest in Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf, said: "There remains real doubt as to the cause of death. I cannot be sure exactly."

Start Quote

Things were going in the right direction and then she died in such a tragic way”

End Quote Rachel Lewis Sister of Joanne Thomas, speaking after the inquest

Ms Thomas had a history of depression, he said, but there was no evidence to suggest she had taken her own life.

The bodies were formally identified via dental records and DNA testing - with a pathologist saying it was "impossible" to say who had died first.

Police ruled out foul play and discounted the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, after "slightly raised levels" were found in the blood of Ms Thomas, who was a smoker, and her baby.

However the coroner was told Ms Thomas regularly complained of feeling unwell in the weeks leading up to her death and may have been vomiting blood.

After the inquest, Ms Thomas's sister Rachel Lewis said her family had not gained any closure from the hearing.

She said: "We are still devastated at the death of Joanne and Harper. Joanne was a good mum who was starting to turn her life around.

"Things were going in the right direction and then she died in such a tragic way.

"We thought we would come here to her inquest and get answers which have plagued us for so long - but all we have been left with is more questions.

"There's no closure for us."

The hearing was told that Ms Thomas had been an excellent student and achieved 12 As at GCSE but "went off the rails" following a "personal matter".

The coroner said he was aware of the details but would not be going into it at the public hearing.

Harper was born on 13 February last year and the hearing was told the child was later placed on the "at risk register" by social services because of a volatile relationship Ms Thomas was in at the time.

By the end of May she was removed from that list and placed on a lesser voluntary scheme.

This had been prompted by more stability in Ms Thomas's home life, said social worker Jamie Robins.

The changes had included her moving out of the Caerphilly county borough area and into a two-bedroomed house, which was owned by a housing association, in Troedyrhiw near Merthyr Tydfil.

Feeling unwell

It was explained that Mr Robins had been contacted by Ms Thomas's health visitor after she failed to turn up for a GP appointment.

He said he had been unable to contact her despite sending a letter and trying to phone her. He said he was unable to make contact by telephone because "she was required to change her mobile phone on a regular basis".

Then in early June, the hearing was told, Ms Thomas complained of feeling unwell prompting her mother to stay to look after Harper. After starting to feel better, her mother returned home.

On 10 June, Ms Thomas sent a text message to her health visitor saying she would be unable to attend a meeting with her. The inquest heard the text was the last time she had used her phone.

But there was increasing concern about Ms Thomas after nothing was heard from her in the following days.

Social services said they had tried to contact her on a number of occasions, attempting three home visits by 28 June.

However, Ms Thomas's mother said the first time she was contacted by social services about her daughter was on 3 July.

Alarm was raised

Mr Robins insisted he had tried to contact members of her family and said the next scheduled visit was not for a few more weeks. A case of a "child in need", he explained, was not as serious as one who was on the "at risk register".

The alarm was raised when a neighbour looked through Ms Thomas's front window and the police were called. They found the bodies of Ms Thomas and her daughter inside.

After ruling out any third-party involvement, Det Insp Tudor Thomas said findings from the post mortem examination suggested Ms Thomas may have vomited blood.

A toxicological analysis of her blood found small amounts of Paracetamol and the anti-depressant Fluoxetine, also known as Prozac.

Pathologist Dr Stephen Leadbetter said the results of the post-mortem examination failed to shed any light into precisely how they had died because of the advanced stages of the decaying process.

However, he said that Harper's nappy was not overly soiled, which discounted the theory the child had been alive for some time on her own after her mother's death.

Dr Leadbetter also said there was no evidence of any injuries to either mother or baby.

Based on the evidence, Mr Barkley said there were no suspicious circumstances and deemed the response of social services as "appropriate".

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