04:51PM, Wednesday 12 April 2017
The death of a missing elderly woman whose body was discovered on land near the Gullet footpath in Maidenhead last year was an accident, an inquest heard today.
Beatrice Stafford, commonly known as Mary, was 83 when she disappeared and died in November.
After a three-week search, police officers found her body half-covered in debris at the bottom of a steep bank by the path.
Senior coroner Peter Bedford, who held the inquest at the Berkshire Coroner’s Court in Reading Town Hall, described the death as ‘very sad’ and said he believed it ‘reasonable’ to say she ‘suffered an accidental slip or fall’.
The inquest heard how Ms Stafford had lunch with her daughter in Maidenhead on the day she went missing — Sunday, November 6 — before getting on a bus in Stafferton Way.
Ms Stafford left the bus in Cannon Lane, three kilometres from her home in Grafton Close.
Reading a report from a police officer, Mr Bedford said her usual bus service from the road altered at the weekend, which ‘may have confused Ms Stafford as to her location’.
Her daughter called police on Wednesday, November 9, who then classified her as a ‘high risk’ missing person due to her age, poor weather and the fact her disappearance was out of character.
Police searched the area using drones, horses and police dogs, before new CCTV evidence suggested she was in a different place.
In a report, an officer suggested Ms Stafford – who appeared to have been in good health and had a zumba class booked for the day after she went missing – could have become confused and exhausted.
On Sunday, November 27, a helicopter helped police locate her body at the bottom of the Gullet footpath bank.
She was identified by police matching her DNA to a toothbrush in her home.
An autopsy found she ‘was likely to have passed away fairly close to the time of her original disappearance’ and her body showed signs consistent with hypothermia.
Mr Bedford recorded a determination that her death was an accident.
Ms Stafford's family did not attend the inquest.
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