Bereavement counsellor killed herself and five-year-old son amid custody battle, inquest

A bereavement counsellor with escalating mental health problems killed herself and her five-year-old son amid a family court custody battle, an inquest has heard.

The bodies of Cheryl and Leo Tompsett were found at Beachy Head (pictured) near Eastbourne on June 18 last year.

The 42-year-old and her son, both from Maidstone in Kent, went missing in the wake of a court ruling that said the boy should be cared for by his father, her ex-partner Mark Woodhams, an inquest on Tuesday heard.

East Sussex coroner Alan Craze told the hearing in Hastings a note addressed to Mr Woodhams said she did not want anyone else to “have” Leo if she could not.

The hearing, attended by several family members including Mr Woodhams, was told Ms Tompsett had been treated for depression for years and was badly affected when the father to her two older daughters took his own life.

She had also recently been signed off work after falling and injuring her knee while on holiday.

Friends told how she had been making plans for the future and had just started her “dream job” as a counsellor in Tunbridge Wells shortly before her death.

Mr Woodhams said her mental health problems had worsened in the months leading up to her death.

Police were called several times to disturbances at the home after rows between the pair.

She moved out and was referred to hospital for a mental health assessment.

Being a trained psychotherapist, who previously worked for child bereavement charity Cruse, Mr Woodhams suspected Ms Tompsett had been able to convince hospital staff she was “fine”, the hearing was told.

In a statement read to the inquest, Mr Woodhams said he had growing concerns for her welfare and her ability to look after the children because of her escalating erratic behaviour.

He said: “Cheryl had started to behave erratically but more recently there was a noticeable change in her behaviour.

“This had given us all concerns about her own mental health.

“She wanted to leave and take Leo with her.

“I didn’t believe she was able to care for Leo at present.”

After she moved out, it was agreed she could have supervised or pre-arranged visits with Leo.

The night before they were found dead, she took him out for dinner with friends and never returned.

Mr Woodhams became worried when she did not bring Leo back for his bed time and was unable to contact her.

He called police who told him to phone social services but they only referred him back to police, the inquest heard.

Mr Woodhams said: “I wasn’t sure what to do.”

He phoned police again to report the disappearance for a second time and officers later launched a hunt for the missing pair.

Their bodies were found the next morning.

In a tribute to his son at the time of his death, Mr Woodhams described Leo as “our shining light, our brightest star”.

In the statement read on his behalf by the coroner, Mr Woodhams said: “I can’t begin to explain how this feels.

“I will never get over the loss that I feel. Life will never be the same.

“We are heartbroken and devastated. Leo had his whole life ahead of him.”

Mr Craze ruled Ms Tompsett’s death a suicide and concluded her son was unlawfully killed.

Addressing the family, he said: “I’m in no doubt whatsoever that tragically Cheryl came to take her own life.

“This poor lady suffered seriously from mental ill health.

“All reason will have vanished from her.”

Although the inquest heard no-one witnessed the incident and exactly what happened cannot be established, Mr Craze added: “Having read the letter addressed to you (Mr Woodhams), there is no space for 1% of doubt about what happened to poor Leo.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Gareth Fuller / PA Wire.