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Woman jumped to her death from apartment balcony amid arthritis 'torture'

Emergency services tried to save Mary Stephenson (74) after the incident at her flat at Manderley in Sea Road, Milford
Emergency services tried to save Mary Stephenson (74) after the incident at her flat at Manderley in Sea Road, Milford

A PENSIONER died by suicide after jumping from the balcony of her seaside apartment, landing in front of a horrified neighbour having breakfast on his patio.

Winchester Coroner’s Court heard that Mary Stephenson (74) had dragged a chair to the railings of the flat she shared with husband John on the first floor of Manderley in Sea Road, Milford.

She suffered depression and agony from arthritis, and just minutes before her death she had told him: “I can’t sleep, it’s torture. I’m in such pain.”

Mr Stephenson said she begged him not to leave her alone but he went for a few minutes to have a shave in the bathroom.

Andrew and Sue Digby, who live in the flat below, were finishing off their breakfast on their sea-view patio at around 8.30am on 13th February this year.

Mrs Digby had taken some things into their kitchen when her husband said he heard a chair being dragged across the balcony above.

In a statement to the court, Mr Digby said he thought Mrs Stephenson was going to have a cigarette, which was something she normally did on her balcony.

But “within a split second” he saw something falling and hitting the floor. To his horror he realised it was Mrs Stephenson who had landed on her back.

He said he went to get something to cover her up and dialled 999 while his wife went upstairs to find Mr Stephenson.

In court, a distraught Mr Stephenson (80), a retired electrical engineer, said the first he knew of what his wife had done was “when I heard the doorbell ring and I was told Mary was on the patio”.

He rushed down to his wife and found her unconscious lying on his neighbour’s patio. He called her name but there was no response.

The air ambulance was scrambled to try to help Mary Stephenson
The air ambulance was scrambled to try to help Mary Stephenson

Paramedics arrived and Mr Stephenson said he went back upstairs where he found the chair which had been pushed against the metre-high balcony rail.

Mrs Stephenson was airlifted to Southampton General Hospital, but doctors told her family that her injuries were not survivable.

Mr Stephenson said his wife, who had suffered years of depression and was in agony from an arthritis in her hip, had “felt her mind was going, she couldn’t drive any more”.

He thought she did what she did to “to alleviate the pain and have some rest. I don’t think she intended to kill herself”.

PC Matthew Cornelius, who attended the scene, said Mr Stephenson had told him: “I saw her 10 minutes ago and she was okay.” The officer could not find a suicide note.

The court had heard how Mrs Stephenson was on the waiting list for a hip replacement operation but she had initially been against having it despite the pain.

A week before her death she had taken an overdose of painkillers and was rushed to hospital. Her husband said he was convinced she was not trying to kill herself but instead get some respite from her pain.

Reaching a conclusion of suicide, coroner Grahame Short said Mary had “suffered pain and depression for a long period of time”. She had been in and out of hospital and was on anti-depressants at the time of her death.

He added: “The effects of sleep deprivation – how worrying that can be for people, night after night you can’t get to sleep.

“At 8.30am she got of bed, went to the balcony, moved the chair and stepped over the rail. I have to conclude this was a deliberate act. She didn’t teeter over the balcony.

“Her main focus was the pain in her hip, about how she would never be free of that pain in the future and would always be in pain for the rest of her days.”

He said she would have known the consequences of jumping from the balcony and that she jumped “using it as a means of stopping her pain and suffering”.

The A&T had previously reported how Mrs Stephenson had undergone a “remarkable recovery” when she had mercury fillings in 19 teeth removed after her husband became convinced they were causing her depression.

A calcium deficiency meant she was particularly susceptible to cavities in her teeth, which was why she had so many fillings.

Her mental health troubles started after the birth of her first child and had lasted nearly 40 years. At the time she underwent the dental treatment, she had been sectioned after suffering a breakdown.

In 2004, after having her fillings removed and replaced by white composite, she underwent a ‘detox’ programme which involved taking 45 herbal tablets a day including ones containing seaweed, coriander and garlic.

According to Mrs Stephenson, who was then 59, within weeks she was feeling much better and even “laughing and going shopping”.

Talking about the mercury fillings, she said: “The dentists do them because they are cheap but look at all the money that has been spent on me over the years.

“It must run into thousands and thousands.”

Her husband John had read about mercury-filling poisoning and told his wife she should have hers removed. She was sceptical at first but eventually agreed.

Mary’s story made national newspaper headlines and the couple were contacted by people who feared they were being similarly poisoned.

She said at the time: “I feel that there really ought to be some kind of testing for mercury sensitivity for people in this country.”

She told the A&T: “Now I’m back at home looking forward to spending time with my husband and grandchildren. I am looking forward to the future.”

This article was updated on 12th August 2019 to change "committed suicide" to "died by suicide".

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