• Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Man hanged himself on day of Oxford court appearance for historic sex abuse

Byoxfordnewspaper

Aug 6, 2022

A man was found dead on the morning he was due before Oxford magistrates facing 67 counts of historic child sex abuse.

Stephen Wheddon, 71, who hanged himself at home in Spalding, Lincs, on February 8 this year, strenuously denied the charges – allegedly committed in north Oxfordshire between the mid-1970s and 2011.

In a letter left for his partner, he said: “I’m so sorry we are to end like this, but I can’t help it as they are going to charge me with all the lies they have been accusing me of.”

He said he could not put Jackie Smith, his partner of 12 years, ‘through it’ and ended his note: “I love you so very much.”

Recording a conclusion of suicide, senior coroner for Lincolnshire Paul Smith said Mr Wheddon’s actions provided evidence neither of his 'guilt or his innocence’.

But he said it was clear from the evidence that the Spalding man had been under ‘increasing pressure’ from the impending prosecution in Oxfordshire and it was a ‘significant factor’ in his decision to take his own life.

Ms Smith, Mr Wheddon’s partner, said in a statement read to Lincolnshire Coroner’s Court on Thursday morning that his life had become ‘very stressful’ in the 18 months leading up to his death.

The allegations, which he told his partner were ‘all lies’, ‘took a toll on Steve’s mental and physical health’, she said. She had not been aware he was due before Oxford Magistrates' Court on February 8 this year.

He had been prescribed anti-depressants by his GP since January 2021, with the prescription renewed at the start of this year. However, there was no trace of the medication in toxicological tests carried out after his death and police found a largely-unused box of tablets in his house that dated back to October 2021.

On February 7, the day before his death, he ate dinner with the family of close friend Phil Watson, the inquest heard.

He asked that, if anything should happen to him, they would help his partner.

Mr Watson said his friend had spoken of his mental health difficulties with him before, but what struck him as out of character was his failure to shake his hand before leaving for home.

Later that evening, Mr Wheddon called his partner, telling her that he would write her a letter explaining how he felt.

When she could not get in touch with him the following morning, Ms Smith called Mr Watson and he assured her he would check on his friend.

He found Mr Wheddon hanged inside his property in Broadgate, Spalding, and performed CPR until police arrived to take over.

Inside his pockets were his phone, identity documents and a slip of paper on which was written his National Insurance number. Police officers found a note, apparently left for Mr Watson, which read: “Phil, don’t come in. Call the police. Sorry, mate.”

In a tribute to her former partner, Ms Smith said he was a keen motorcyclist and ‘always on the go’.

Following notification of his death to Oxford Magistrates’ Court, the criminal charges against Mr Wheddon were formally withdrawn by the Crown Prosecution Service in April.

He had been charged with 49 counts of indecent assault, four allegations of gross indecency, two counts of rape of a girl under-13, four allegations of rape of a teen girl, assaulting a child under 13 by penetration, engaging in penetrative sexual activity with a girl and four allegations of neglect. The alleged victims cannot be identified for legal reasons.

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