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Inquest: Norfolk man's church plunge death an accident

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:31 02 July 2010

Mary Hamilton

A young man plunged to his death as he tried to abseil down a Norfolk church tower, an inquest heard.

Mary Hamilton

A “happy and laughing” young man plunged to his death as he tried to abseil down a Norfolk church tower, an inquest heard.

Stephen Monument, 27, fell from the tower of St Andrew's Church, North Burlingham.

Yesterday's inquest heard that Mr Monument, of Beighton Road, Acle, had been acting out of character in the weeks leading up to his death, and that he was assessed by a doctor days before the accident.

His mother Betty Monument told the coroner she had a “worrying” conversation with Mr Monument the week before he died, when he seemed paranoid and referred to himself as a “bad person”.

On December 7 he was behaving oddly and she called a doctor, but when the doctor spoke to Mr Monument he responded normally and did not seem disturbed.

Mrs Monument said: “That Monday he said he had slept in North Burlingham church and abseiled down the roof.

“On December 8 we had a conversation and he said he was going to stay in a bed and breakfast in Norwich - I was quite relieved because I thought if he was in a B&B he's safer than if he was camping.

“I had a text from him at 4.11am on December 9. He said: 'I'm off to North Norfolk for a couple of days and abseiling the cliffs. I will phone you on Friday. My batteries are low.'

“That was the last we heard from him.”

Mr Monument's body was found shortly before 10am on December 9 by Terence Hubbard, who had been walking his dog in nearby Burlingham Woods.

Investigating officer, Det Con Ronald Philpin, told the inquest that although Mr Monument forced his way into the 15th-century church through a window, there was no evidence of criminal activity.

He added that a rope was found secured around the parapet of the church tower and that Mr Monument, who was an abseiler, had most likely attempted to clip himself on to the rope to abseil down when something went wrong and either he slipped or failed to attach properly to the rope.

Greater Norfolk coroner William Armstrong recorded a verdict of accidental death, saying: “Despite the way he was behaving, there is no suspicion in my mind that he intended to do himself harm.

“Equally clearly he was acting without regard for his own safety and that is why he sadly fell to his death.

“It is very clear that Mr Monument was behaving in the last two weeks of his life in a way that was outside his normal character.

“Although there is no formal diagnosis of mental health problems, there must be a suspicion that he was suffering from a psychotic breakdown that was causing him to act very differently.”

After the inquest Mrs Monument said: “Stephen was our youngest child. He was always happy and laughing.

“Life will never be the same without him.”

He had worked abroad for some years and had attended Acle primary and high schools.

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