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Langley's shop assistant died at home alone, Norwich inquest told

PUBLISHED: 06:30 17 August 2011 | UPDATED: 07:42 17 August 2011

House in Branford Road where Dawn Sword died: Picture by David Bale

House in Branford Road where Dawn Sword died: Picture by David Bale

Archant

Thousands of Norwich children will recognise the face - but Dawn Sword tragically died home alone and her body was not discovered for several weeks.

Norfolk’s coroner William Armstrong told a Norwich inquest yesterday that it was “deeply disturbing” that Miss Sword died alone and without any support in the heart of Norwich.

The 70-year-old, who retired from Langley’s toy shop in the Royal Arcade last year after nearly 40 years’ service, is thought to have died “a considerable time” before police broke into her terraced house in Branford Road, off Sprowston Road, on June 4.

The inquest was told that neighbours finally alerted police after growing concerned about her welfare.

Neighbours told police that she was a recluse and Mr Armstrong told the inquest, which was attended by Miss Sword’s three female cousins, that when police forced entry into the house, there was a large accumulation of flies at the windows, and many months’ worth of mail piled up at the front door.

Mr Armstrong also said that there was no evidence that Miss Sword, who was single, had any meaningful contact with anyone for about six months.

But that picture of an isolated, lonely woman does not fit with the portrait painted by John Fielding, managing director of Langleys, where Miss Sword had worked since 1972.

He said: “She was known to us as Danny. She retired last July. She was a colourful character who related to everyone. She had a number of close friendships with people who worked here.

“Although she was a very sociable person she enjoyed her privacy at home. She did not have a home phone and she did not give out her mobile number to many people, and then never kept it turned on.

“That is just how she lived her life and was not because she lacked social skills, as she was a very likeable person.

“She loved fireworks and would use public transport to go out to the country to see fireworks displays.”

Mr Armstrong told the inquest that a post mortem examination was carried out but the cause of death was unascertained, because she had been dead for some time.

Mr Armstrong said: “She died alone without support or companionship, which is deeply disturbing, as she lived in a densely populated part of the city.

“Of course I recognise and accept that Dawn had chosen to live an isolated existence.

“Nevertheless, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the work being undertaken by Age UK Norwich to start up social networks in communities to try and stop elderly people becoming isolated and beyond reach, although Dawn may not have been responsive to such help.”

He recorded a verdict stating that there was insufficient evidence available to reliably give a cause of death, but added there was no evidence of any trauma or third party involvement in her death.

As reported, at the opening of the inquest in June, the tragic event prompted Phil Wells, chief executive officer of Age UK Norwich, to call for more people to get involved in setting up network groups through which people can help their neighbours and reduce isolation.

He said at the time: “We are seeking to create a better social network within the community. A lot of people fear isolation in later life, and as they become less mobile, it is easy to become isolated.

“As isolation is a big problem, we are working with neighbourhood groups to set up social networks around the community, which people can plug into, and help neighbours.

“Active retired people can make a big difference in the community in setting up these networks and transport schemes to help isolated people.”

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