Chichester pair in suicide pact

Whyke Marsh, the scene of the tragic incident
Whyke Marsh, the scene of the tragic incident

A COUPLE who were found dead in their home in Chichester took their own lives after putting a film of Romeo and Juliet on the television.

Chris Stonehouse, 44, and 27-year-old Alphira Stonehouse took a fatal overdose of drugs on November 8.

An inquest today (Tuesday, April 16) into Alphira’s death heard the pair had left notes at the scene.

Police were called to their Whyke Marsh home after Chris failed to turn up for an appointment at a mental health clinic in Chichester.

At the inquest mental health officials were been questioned over why there was a delay in responding to a text message revealing the couple intended to commit suicide.

The evening before the couple’s bodies were discovered, Mr Stonehouse sent mental health worker Damian Walsh a text message in which he disclosed their intention to end their lives.

The inquest into Mrs Stonehouse’s death heard that Mr Walsh did not see the message or that he missed calls from Mr Stonehouse until around 9am the following morning, when he was scheduled to see him.

Concerned at the message, Mr Walsh said he first tried to call Mr Stonehouse but it diverted to voicemail, then sent him a text message but again failed to get a reply.

Police were eventually alerted and the couple - who married in 2005 and had been in regular contact with mental health professionals - were found dead in their two-bedroom home.

Detective Sergeant Sally Arbuckle said in a statement that a note found read: “Unless you are the emergency services, do not enter. Alphira and Chris, aka Romeo and Juliet.”

In the room, a television had been showing Romeo and Juliet and a passage from the Shakespearean tragedy was highlighted, the inquest heard.

A post-mortem examination on Mrs Stonehouse - who was her husband’s full-time carer - found she died from an overdose of prescription drugs.

At a separate inquest into Mr Stonehouse’s death last week, a suicide verdict was recorded.

Today, Mrs Stonehouse’s mother, Deborah Jacobs, questioned why the text message revealing the suicidal intentions of the couple was not acted upon sooner.

She asked Mr Walsh: “If Chris had sent you 34 texts before this one and none had given any indication of wanting to take their own lives, why didn’t you call 999?”

Mr Walsh said Mr Stonehouse left the message on his work mobile phone the evening before their deaths after he had finished for the day and he read it the following morning.

He added that a full investigation had been launched and that part of it would centre on whether a new policy needs to be drafted relating to mobile phone use.

Coroner Penelope Schofield recorded a verdict of suicide in Alphira’s case; at an inquest into Chris’ death last week, assistant deputy coroner David Skipp recorded a similar verdict.

For the full story, see this week’s Chichester Observer, out on Thursday, April 16.