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Mother lay dead under rubbish for 19 months and no one noticed

By Claire Graham

A mother of three lay dead in a pile for rubbish for 19 months before anyone noticed, a court heard.

The skeletal remains were discovered buried under six feet of bin bags in the backyard of a derelict property in Belfast two years ago.

Julie Ann Watson, originally from Ballycregagh, Co Antrim, was curled up in the foetal position.

She was identified from DNA samples taken from her spine.

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

Coroner Jim Kitson told her inquest: "It goes without saying this is a desperately sad and tragic case." He added: "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."

The court was told that the rear of the Donegall Avenue property had been a common spot for fly-tipping.

Former landlord Marc Doherty said the amount of bin bags and other articles dumped there could have filled two large industrial builder skips.

An elderly neighbour alerted Belfast City Council to the heap of rubbish in December 2010. In April the following year, Ms Watson was found by construction workers near the blocked entrance.

She had suffered a life of alcohol addiction and poor mental health, the court heard.

All three of her children were taken away by social services.

Her friend Nicola Johnston told the court: "Her life seemed so down, she wouldn't be getting back up again.

"She drank from morning to night. She was sitting crying like a baby."

Her brother hadn't seen Julie Ann since 2006, following a dispute. She was last seen alive in August 2009 and all bank activity ceased one month later, a police officer told the court. Pathologist, Dr Alistair Bentley, said there was evidence of trauma to her ribs and skull from earlier injuries.

These wounds had been healing at the time of death and the bone fractures were unrelated to how she died, he said. A bone in her neck had been broken through pressure or force.

Because the body was so badly decayed, the pathologist was unable to give a definitive answer about how she died.

He 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."

An aerosol spray and bag were found next to her. Although solvent abuse can cause sudden death, the court was told because she lacked any bodily fluids, it could not be proven that this was the cause of death.

She lived with a friend Joseph Blair on Kitchener Street, close to where she was discovered.

He told the court she often disappeared for weeks at a time and when she left with two bin bags full of belongings in August 2009, he assumed she was moving on again.

The coroner offered his sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased. He said: "Her death will remain undetermined due to advanced decomposition."

Warm, generous and caring... yet Julie Ann endured a troubled life blighted by alcohol

It was a heartbreaking way to end a troubled young life blighted by alcohol. Julie Ann Watson's body lay unnoticed under 6ft piles of bin bags and rubbish for 19 months.

When the 37-year-old mother of three's skeletal body was eventually discovered in her green coat, she was curled up in the foetal position.

Her remains were found by construction workers clearing a back-street yard in Donegall Avenue in the Village area of Belfast. They were called to the area after being alerted to mounting rubbish in the yard by an elderly neighbour.

Julie Ann was last seen alive in August 2009, before her body was discovered in the yard of the derelict building in April 2011. She was known for her troubled alcoholic lifestyle, disappearing for weeks on end.

She gave birth to her third baby in Purdysburn Hospital, Belfast, when she was admitted for mental health problems in 2004. At an emotional inquest in Belfast Coroner's Court yesterday, a friend of 22 years said that after leaving hospital, her life didn't improve.

Nicola Johnston said she would drink litres of cider from morning to night, "sitting crying like a baby".

The pair met while living in Barnardos Children's care home in Belfast. Julie Ann was taken in when her parents' marriage broke down. She and her siblings were split up within separate branches of state care.

She stayed close to her brother, who was best man at her wedding. Marrying at the young age of 18, she had her whole life in front of her. She started a family and worked hard as a hairdresser. At her inquest, her distraught younger brother said during this time she was "a caring, generous wife and mum".

William Watson said her drinking escalated when her relationship with her husband came to an end. "After a string of bad boyfriend choices, a nasty side came out", he said.

The grips of her addiction to alcohol took over her life, and her children were taken away.

Julie Ann had lived just a short distance from the rubbish tip where she was found. She shared a home with Joseph Blair on Kitchener Street before she moved on again, packing her life into two bin bags just one month before she died.

Beside her remains lay an aerosol can and a bag. She had no history of solvent abuse, and her body was too decomposed to find evidence of fumes. Her ribs, skull and nose had experienced fractures when she was alive.

Coroner Jim Kitson said it will never be known how she died.

Belfast Telegraph

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