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Mum’s tragic moonlight swim

Flowers left in memory of Sue Alston on Morecambe promenade.

Flowers left in memory of Sue Alston on Morecambe promenade.

A devoted mother-of-one collapsed and drowned in shallow water after going for a moonlight swim in the sea following a night out drinking.

Fifty-one-year-old Susan Alston from Lancaster had a 12-year-old son and was due to go on holiday the following week, an inquest heard.

She was found dead on the beach near the clock tower in Morecambe by a man cycling to work on the promenade at 5.35am on August 10.

James Gallagher thought he saw a large doll lying on the beach. Susan was wearing underwear and was lying face down on the sand.

Lee Carter, licensee of The Queens and The Pier pubs in Morecambe, told the inquest that at 2am on Saturday 
August 10, he saw a woman sitting on a low wall with her head in her hands.

She was wearing a short-sleeved top and had blond hair, and was sitting by herself.

At approximately 2.15am to 2.20am the woman, later identified as Susan Alston, was gone. Police said there were no further sightings of her alive.

The inquest heard that Susan Alston, of Shaw Street, had met with a friend Ann Hindmarsh, who she had known for 37 years, on August 9 and they had gone to Morecambe on a night out.

Mrs Hindmarsh said: “She was happy and enjoying herself, no different from the nights we had out before.

“We had one more drink in the Kings Arms and she started dancing.

“I decided I wanted to go home and I asked her if she wanted to come but she didn’t want to go.”

Simon Gifford got talking to Ann Hindmarsh and Susan Alston in The Royal Hotel and the three went to The Kings Arms.

He told the inquest: “We had all had a few to drink. Susan was having a good time, she was happy.

“I was getting food on my way home so we walked down Pedder Street.

“I pointed her to a taxi rank and she seemed fine, still quite happy as she was.

“I assumed that was where she was going.” Det Supt Neil Esseen, senior investigating officer, was informed that the body of a partially clothed woman had been found on the beach near the clock tower at 7.05am on August 10.

Twenty seven metres away there was a pile of clothes and a handbag containing a mobile phone.

Det Supt Neil Esseen said: “I can’t explain why she went on the beach. There was no indication of suicide, she was due to go on holiday the week after her death and was devoted to her son.

“She must have gone into the water very close to high tide, which was at 1.50am.

“She collapsed for some reason and drowned in a relatively small amount of water.

“She may have gone for a swim but I’m not sure there was any water for a swim.

“It was fairly shallow water, maximum four feet, probably less than that. The water probably wouldn’t have been enough to cover her at the time she fell.”

Police determined that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.

Susan’s mother Pauline Stewart told the inquest that Susan had lived in Spain and swimming in the sea was something she did regularly.

Dr Matthew Lyle, Home Office pathologist, conducted the post mortem examination.

From her GP notes it appeared that Susan, who had a history of depression and hypothyroidism and was taking medication for both, wasn’t much of a drinker.

There was no evidence of acute damage to the heart.

The blood alcohol level was fairly high at approximately three times the drink drive limit.

The levels of anti-depressant medication were within therapeutic levels.

The cause of death was drowning.

Mrs Alston had recently returned to live in Lancaster after becoming estranged from the father of her son.

Divorce proceedings were nearing completion.

Deputy Coroner for Preston and West Lancashire Mr Simon Jones said: “It’s impossible to determine the precise effects of the anti-depressant medication on the alcohol.

“Susan had had a considerable amount to drink, nine or 10 whiskies over the course of the evening.

“What we don’t know is why she did what she did.

“She was seen sitting on the promenade and that is the last time she is seen alive.

“She has then made her way onto the beach, undressed, quite possibly with the intention of going for a swim by moonlight and she has then collapsed due to some sort of medical event.

“Cardiac arrest can’t be ruled out but we can’t find any evidence for it.

“It is probable that alcohol has played its part.

“She was only there for a comparatively short period and the tide is low but this was sufficient to cause her to drown.”

Verdict: Accidental death.

 

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