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DJ Derek death remains mystery after body found in woodland

Published 22/07/2016

DJ Derek, who was found dead aged 73, had a beer named after him (Bristol News and Media/PA)
DJ Derek, who was found dead aged 73, had a beer named after him (Bristol News and Media/PA)

The death of a famous DJ will remain a mystery, a coroner has ruled.

The decomposing body of Derek Serpell-Morris - better known as DJ Derek - was found in woodland by a dog walker nine months after he disappeared.

Mr Serpell-Morris, who was Britain's oldest DJ, regularly travelled by bus and his body was discovered a few hundred yards from a bus stop that he was known to use.

The pensioner worked with the likes of Massive Attack and appeared in Dizzee Rascal's hit music video Dirtee Disco in 2010.

His skeletal remains were found in a clearing close to the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre in Patchway, near Bristol, Avon Coroner's Court heard.

The last confirmed sighting of the 73-year-old was shortly after midnight on July 11 from CCTV inside The Criterion pub in Bristol - where he was a regular.

Mr Serpell-Morris, from St Paul's, was reported missing by his family on July 23, after they had become increasingly worried because they were unable to contact him.

Detective Constable Carol Doxsey told the court that police had found no evidence to suggest anyone had harmed Mr Serpell-Morris or that he had intended to take his own life.

The officer said Mr Serpell-Morris's bank account was last used on July 6 and his bus pass on the day he disappeared.

"There was no obvious reason why he had gone missing," Det Con Doxsey told the court.

"We are unable to say how he died or why he was in that location."

Det Con Doxsey confirmed there was no evidence that Mr Serpell-Morris had been the victim of a crime and there was nothing to suggest he had intended to harm himself.

"We spoke to many people during the investigation and everybody only had good things to say about him," she added.

Mr Serpell-Morris was identified by DNA and pathologist Dr Russell Delaney was unable to say how he died due to the level of decomposition and gave the cause of death as "unascertained".

"There was no positive evidence of anti-mortem injury but it is clearly not impossible to entirely exclude an injury that damaged soft tissue only," he said in a statement.

"In a man of this age it is entirely possible that he died from natural causes. Other possibilities to consider include hypothermia and overdose."

Dr Peter Harrowing, assistant coroner for Avon, recorded a narrative conclusion and said that Mr Serpell-Morris was a very private man.

"I fully understand that everybody in this court today and others that are not are wondering the answers to many questions in relation to how Derek came by his death," he said.

"Derek was clearly a very public character in one respect, well respected by those that knew him for his involvement in music in Bristol and the wider community.

"I am sure his love and passion and knowledge of music touched and enriched the lives of all those that knew him. I am sure he will be fondly remembered by all

"DJ Derek forms a very important part of the history of music at home, in the country and abroad."

He added: "We will never know why Derek came to be where he was found. It cannot be known how the deceased came by his death."

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Serpell-Morris's niece, Jennifer Griffiths, said her uncle's death would remain a mystery.

"I don't feel we have got answers to all our questions because we don't know how and why he came to be there," she said.

"We are never going to know what happened. I always thought from the beginning that he went in there to go to the toilet and had a heart attack or stroke.

"I am sure nothing untoward happened to him. Nobody would hurt him - he was loved by too many people."

Mr Serpell-Morris played hundreds of sets at local bars and clubs over the years, including at the Glastonbury festival.

He was an accountant for Cadbury before becoming a DJ in his mid-30s and was known for playing a blend of 1960s rocksteady, reggae, ska, dancehall and soul music.

The pensioner, who did not own a mobile phone, had a hobby of visiting new Wetherspoon pubs.

Following his death the pub chain brewed a beer in his memory.

Derek, a 4.8% ABV tribute beer, had the catchline "Love the life you live, and live the life you love", which also featured on the order of service for his funeral.

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