Coroner records open verdict on Andrew Watt death

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The family of a man found dead in France nearly five years ago say someone could have got away with murder after a coroner recorded an open verdict on the death.

Coroner Andrew Tweddle found that medication Andrew Watt, whose family live in Ettrickbridge, was taking could have been a factor in his death.

And he admitted that the family’s belief that he may have died after being chased was one of several possible scenarios.

However, he concluded that the cause of death could not be ascertained.

Mr Watt, from Durham City, was found dead about a mile from Vimarce, near Laval, in north-west France, in September 2010.

French doctors decided that the 31-year-old who was taken medication for mental health issues, died of heart failure.

At at inquest at Crook Coroner’s Court consultant pathologist Dr Paul Barrett, who conducted a post-mortem examination on Mr Watt, said a number of prescription drugs were in his system. He said the medication could have prompted a heart attack, but he was unable to provide a cause of death with any certainty.

Detective Inspector Mick Bird said he believed the French Gendarmerie had conducted a “reasonable” investigation.

However, he conceded that he would have pursued more lines of enquiry, including conducting house to house enquiries.

Mr Tweddle recorded an open verdict, telling Mr Watt’s family: “A possible explanation is that Andrew’s death may be linked to the medication that he was prescribed and taking.

“Possibly Andrew could have been chased at the time and that may have had an impact, but there equally may be other explanations.”

Mr Tweddle said there was no evidence to suggest Mr Watt had taken his own life or had been assaulted, adding: “The medical cause of death is unascertained. That inevitably draws me to only one conclusion and that is an open verdict.”

Mr Watt’s family have repeatedly highlighted inconsistencies and gaps in the evidence provided by the French police and doctors.

After the hearing, Les Sheppard, Mr Watt’s step-father, said the family felt abandoned by British officials.

“We feel it’s an insult to Andrew because of the lack of an investigation and reluctance to request that the French reopen the case.”

Julie Sheppard, Mr Watt’s mother, added: “An open verdict means they haven’t go enough evidence to make a decision, but they’re not prepared to ask the French for more evidence.

“(Someone in France) could have got away with manslaughter, murder or whatever.”

The coroner said he could reopen the case if significant new evidence was found.

Mr Watt’s family said they would continue searching for answers.