Alzheimer’s man found in St Albans died of hypothermia

A “kind and loving” Alzheimer’s sufferer, whose body was found in St Albans three weeks after he went missing, died as a result of hypothermia, an inquest has ruled.

Alan Spray, 73, went missing from the Verulam House nursing home on the evening of July 30 this year. He had been at work with his wife Barbara, with whom he lived in nearby Hatfield.

A large-scale search was launched for the retired admin manager, whose body was eventually found by ground maintenance staff at the Gorhambury Estate on August 22.

The inquest on Tuesday heard how Alan, who was born in Westcliff-on-Sea, had been referred to a specialist in 2006 after showing signs of dementia. He was given drug treatment in 2009 and regularly attended the memory clinic.

Following a visit in May this year, it was felt an assessment was needed to discuss introducing a sit-in carer’s service at Alan’s home as well as sensors which would alert the family if he wandered off. But an error in the referral system meant an appointment was not scheduled until July 29.

Jackie Holliwell, a specialist in care for older people, told the inquest: “It shouldn’t have taken so long. It should normally take about six weeks.”

Alan did not attend the appointment and the next day, the father of five went missing. He had been sitting in the television room with residents whilst Barbara was working. When she went to check on him shortly after 8pm, he had gone.

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She was told he had walked towards the back door, which leads to the car park where he would have usually gone with her.

Barbara, who described Alan as “a kind and gentle loving person”, searched but couldn’t locate him and the police were called.

Det Insp Simon Warwick, the senior investigating officer, told the inquest that a large scale search was launched, through foot searches, house-to-house enquiries and media appeals. The helicopter was also scrambled.

CCTV footage was studied which showed Alan, a keen Tottenham fan, walking past the Total garage on Verulam Road. This was the last sighting of him.

The search was scaled down on August 5, which Det Insp Warwick described as “a difficult call.”

Shortly after 9am on August 22, police received a call to say a body had been found at the rear of a cottage on the Gorhambury estate, less than half a mile from where Alan had gone missing.

He was found by ground maintenance staff who were doing some grass cutting whilst the owners of the cottage were away. Police arrived and although it was not possible to make a visual identification, they quickly came to the conclusion it was Alan, as a watch and some keys were found nearby. He was eventually identified through DNA samples.

Det Insp Tannis Perks, who took over when Mr Warwick went on holiday, said she was “horrified” when she heard dentures were later found after the body had been removed. She passed on sincere apologies that these were not spotted sooner.

The cause of death has been registered as hypothermia with Alzheimer’s Disease as a contributory factor.

Herts coroner Edward Thomas said it would be “impossible” to accurately say how Alan had died but that the signs indicated he had died from hypothermia quite soon after he went missing.

He said: “I’m satisfied there was no third party involvement and that there was no obvious sign of natural disease.

“This would never have happened if he did not have Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Mr Thomas recorded a narrative verdict, stating: “He died of hypothermia, having gone missing when very confused on the evening of July 30, 2011.”

Addressing the family, he said: “I can’t begin to imagine how awful this must have been for all of you. He seemed to have been such a lovely man.”

During the inquest, Alan’s daughter Nikki thanked police for their efforts and said: “There’s no way you could have found dad any sooner and we are grateful for what you did to try and find him.”