Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Woman's remains found in Belfast almost two years after she was last seen

Belfast Coroners Court heard Julie Ann Watson's body was so badly decomposed no cause of death could be determined
Belfast Coroners Court heard Julie Ann Watson's body was so badly decomposed no cause of death could be determined

A woman's skeletal remains were found in Belfast 19 months after she was last seen, an inquest has heard.

Troubled Julie Ann Watson (37) was found under six feet of rubbish behind a derelict house metres from where she lived in south Belfast.

Her body was so badly decomposed no cause of death could be determined.

Belfast Coroner Jim Kitson said it was a "desperately sad and tragic case".

"It is also in some ways shocking that the body of a young woman of some 37 years of age can lie undiscovered for a period of 19 months," he said.

She had to be identified by DNA records after her recovery in the backyard of a derelict house in April 2011 by workmen clearing rubbish close to Donegall Avenue in the city. She was last seen alive in August 2009 and her final bank activity was a month later, police said.

The heavy-drinking mother-of three may have died from sniffing solvents after an aerosol can was found beside her, a pathologist said, but he was unable to make a definitive finding because the body was so badly decayed.

The coroner could not determine a cause of death.

Mr Kitson said: "It appears quite clear that Julie's life was out of control and sadly it appears Julie was in the grips of some sort of alcoholism or addiction."

Her brother William had not seen her since 2006 and a close friend said she had become afraid to leave her home. Nicola Johnston recalled her drinking from morning to night, litre after litre of cider.

"She was sitting crying like a baby," Ms Johnston added.

Her body was covered in several old fractures from an accident or assault, pathologist Dr Alistair Bentley said, including a bone in her neck broken by pressure. None of these injuries caused her death and had happened a considerable time beforehand, the expert added. An archaeology expert had to be brought in to identify the different fractures, which may have been caused by falls linked to excessive drinking.

She had a difficult start to life and was put into foster care after her parents split, her brother William Watson said. She later went through a divorce, descending into a spiral of depression and alcoholism, the inquest heard.

"She thought the whole world was against her," her sibling recalled.

After her divorce she "dropped off the radar", the coroner said. She stayed with friends or in hostels but later moved into a property at Kitchener Street, close to where her body was found, with a friend called Joseph Blair. He told police she tended to leave for weeks at a time and he did not consider them to be in a relationship. After she left in August 2009 he assumed she was living somewhere else.

He was interviewed by police but a detective told the inquest his account was plausible and there were no signs of a crime having been committed.

Dr Bentley said: "Within the limits imposed by the degree of decomposition there was nothing that I found to suggest that she had been the victim of a homicide."

Her bones were found curled in a foetal position with an aerosol and plastic bag close.

A pathologist said she may have been inhaling the gases of the spray, which can interfere with the heart beat, but it was not possible to analyse for the toxic substances.

The coroner said it was clear she was not the victim of a murder.

"Her death will remain undetermined due to advanced decomposition," he added.

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