London Colney wanderer’s tragic suicide

Coroner's Court.

Coroner's Court. - Credit: Archant

A well-known local wanderer with Asperger’s Syndrome intentionally killed himself by weighing down his backpack and drowning in a lake, an inquest heard last Thursday.

Keith Doughty, of Cutmore Drive, died on April 10 this year in a lake by Colney Heath recreation ground and was found face down in the water with string tied to his hands and feet, which were attached to a branch.

Pathologist Dr Lutful Wahab speaking at the inquest initially included autism as a cause of death as he believed the 39 year old’s “mental state may have affected his perceptions and may have possibly led him to him doing this [drowning]”.

Witness Ian Martin, a support worker from the The National Autistic Society, worked with Keith from January up until his death, and explained he spoke in monosyllabic answers and would never use descriptive words.

But when asked if he thought Keith would take his own life he replied: “There was no indication to me, but then of course he never indicated anything.”

Karen Smith, a street outreach and resettlement worker for Open Door, was the first person to help the “complex” nomad and said the village had mixed feelings towards him: “Some people supported him by getting him food, other people wanted him gone, which made him uncomfortable”

She said he was completely socially isolated and had no shelter when she first met him, just some tarpaulin, a sleeping bag, and a rucksack.

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Keith reportedly told Karen he wanted to stay in the village and get a flat because he was afraid of staying in a hostel.

She explained that he laughed when receiving his flat keys and loved to watch the television at the property, which prevented him from sleeping rough for a while.

But he began to sleep outside again and found it hard to adjust to living in the property, which the inquest heard he failed to maintain.

Of his death Karen said: “I was very sad. I was quite shocked as well. It never occurred to me that he would do that.”

Summarising, West Herts Coroner Edward Thomas said he found the situation with Keith extremely sad and that the syndrome he suffered from was one that took a lot of time and patience to deal with. After hearing from all the witnesses he added that Keith obviously couldn’t cope and it was difficult to understand him completely.

Mr Thomas went on: “Because he wasn’t good at communicating, I wouldn’t have expected him to write a note or say really how he was feeling.

“Keith retreated to living rough and I think that’s really sad, and if only he had been able to find something that he could be comfortable with then there might have been a future for him.”

He ruled a verdict of suicide with a second cause of Aspergers Syndrome.