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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Suicide Pact Duo Died Weeks After Meeting Online, Inquest Hears

Young teacher Jenny Spain and Mark Searle, 37, found dead together in car in Buckinghamshire.

Relatives of a young teacher who died in an internet suicide pact wept as they heard she was found "cradled" in the lap of a stranger.

The bodies of Jenny Spain, 23, and Mark Searle, 37, were discovered inside a car on a country lane near the village of Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire weeks after they met online.

The fume-filled car in Braintree, Essex, where the bodies of Stephen Lumb and Joanne Lee were found last September.

An inquest heard the pair researched their deaths before driving to the remote spot where they were found in a Ford Ka.

Police later uncovered an internet trail and a series of text messages between Spain, from Deptford, south London, and Searle, from Hailsham, East Sussex.

It revealed they had planned their deaths on 22 February, High Wycombe magistrates court in Buckinghamshire heard.

The hour-long hearing was told that the pair had been "complete strangers living a considerable distance from each other".

Detective Constable Gareth Nicholson, of Thames Valley police, said they originally made contact on 2 February after meeting on an internet forum.

While high-achiever Spain had a history of depression and self-harm, Searle, a nurse, suffered from bipolar disorder, the inquest was told.

In a matter of weeks, they agreed to end their lives together, discussing their plans using instant messages and on one occasion meeting in London.

Late on 21 February or early the next morning, they set off for Buckinghamshire – an area neither knew well.

In a written statement read to the court, a woman said she stumbled upon the scene while walking her dog.

Judy Thompson said she spotted the car parked at the side of the road. Two bodies were in the back and the driver's seat had been pushed forward.

"I saw something on the male's lap as though he was cradling something," she said. "I immediately thought it was a child but quite quickly I realised it was another person, an adult, slumped across the male's lap."

When emergency crews arrived, the surrounding area was sealed, with roads up to half a mile away cordoned off.

Fighting back tears, Searle's wife, Emma Sandalls, told how they met in London on the morning of his death. Her husband, who had suffered from suicidal thoughts since they met, never returned home.

Though the couple had been in the process of relocating to a new home at the time of Searle's death, there was "nothing untoward going on other than the usual stresses of moving house", Sandalls said.

"I knew he had suicidal thoughts and he did find an outlet for that online," she added. "I viewed it as a support network for dealing with his thoughts."

Spain's father, Christopher said his daughter, who had a first-class degree, suffered from depression and self-harm. But he added that family members had no idea she was about to end her life, agreeing that her death had come as a "dreadful shock".

"She used the internet but she kept it to herself," he said.

The Buckinghamshire coroner Richard Hulett told the court that, following the deaths, he had been able to access information on their chosen suicide method online "within about three minutes" using Google.

"The evidence is plain," he said. "It seems the two individuals, both of whom have a degree or background of depression and suicidal thoughts or self-harm, came to know each other rather, by my mind, morbidly, on a site that is dedicated to people who are interested in things related to suicide.

"The method was decided upon and the parties, with more or less equal apprehension and determination, decided upon this course of action.

"What they were doing was pretty much invisible to both their families, all families, and those who were immediate and close to them."

Recording verdicts of suicide, he added: "There was a clear decision and determination to take this course of action which could only result in the death of both of them. With this in mind, I need to return two verdicts that each individual took their own life."

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