'Stepfather' questioned over death of disabled son found 'in suitcase at family home'
Published 25/04/2008 | 08:31
One of the suspects in the murder of James Hughes in Redditch has been named locally as his stepfather. Neighbours of the family in Redditch said Brian Kirby, 36, was one of two people arrested in connection with the death of the severely disabled 22-year-old.
West Mercia police, who described the case as one of the saddest they have ever dealt with, confirmed only that they are questioning a man and a youth, and would not say if either was known to the family.
Both suspects remained in custody yesterday in Redditch and Kidderminster, Worcestershire.
Mr Hughes, who had the mental age of a toddler, was found at his family home on Wednesday, just two days after his mother's body was discovered at the base of a tree by teenagers half a mile from the house in Loxley Close, in the Church Hill area. Reports last night suggested Mr Hughes' body was found in a suitcase in a shed, and could have been there for many weeks, but police would neither confirm nor deny the details.
While officers said they were treating the death of Heather Wardle, 39, as unexplained, a ligature around her neck appeared to indicate she hanged herself.
Dental records would be used to formally identify Mr Hughes' body, police said, prompting speculation that his corpse was badly decomposed.
Specialist teams were continuing to search the garden of the family's terraced home, where a white tent erected by police stood alongside children's toys and a small slide.
Superintendent Jane Horwood said: "The post-mortem should give us more information about how and when James died. What started out as a missing persons inquiry has tragically become an investigation into two deaths."
She added: "While we never gave up hope of finding Heather and James alive, we were extremely concerned about both of them from the start, and our fears for James obviously increased after the discovery of his mother's body."
Ms Wardle, described by friends as a devoted mother to James, Daniel, 17, Callum, eight and six-year-old Luke, was last seen on Friday evening when she said she was walking to a friend's house near her home in Redditch. Officers believed she died within 24 hours, although her body was not found for three days in dense undergrowth.
Ms Wardle cared for Mr Hughes round the clock. He could not feed himself or even answer to his name and needed medication for epilepsy. While friends and neighbours described Ms Wardle as a usually cheerful woman, several said she had appeared "fed up" and distracted recently.
Mr Kirby, her long-term partner, had said he was "devastated" by her loss and that although they had "had problems", they had remained close.
Margaret Cooper, Ms Wardle's step-grandmother said: "I can't believe this has happened. She was such a sweet girl and very kind. I loved having her around. The last time I saw her she said her and Brian were having problems, but I told her, we all have problems. She seemed OK eventually. That was the last time I saw her."
Mrs Cooper added: "Heather was only 17 when she had James. She didn't know he was disabled at first ... He was a lovely lad, it's just so tragic that this has happened."
Neighbours said a bus that used to collect James each morning had stopped calling and it was reported that Ms Wardle had asked social services to stop providing help. A Worcestershire County Council spokesman said the authority was "co-operating fully" with police.