Chichester ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in sex abuse probe

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A COUPLE being investigated for child sex abuse took their own lives in a Romeo and Juliet-style suicide pact.

Chris Stonehouse, 44, and his 27-year-old wife Alphira were found dead at their Whyke Marsh home last year.

They left a note, signed ‘Romeo and Juliet’, before taking an overdose on Thursday, November 8. A DVD of Shakespeare’s play had been watched and a copy of the play was left open beside their bed with a passage highlighted.

Sussex Police confirmed the pair were being investigated for historic sexual offences against a child and had been due to answer bail the week after they died.

Changes are to be made to the way mental health professionals deal with out-of-hours calls after it emerged the couple sent a text message to staff at a local clinic, warning of their suicide plans.

Mr and Mrs Stonehouse had tried to contact a mental health practitioner before taking a fatal combination of anti-depressants.

Police arrived at their home in Whyke Marsh on Thursday, November 8, to find the gate and back door unlocked. There was a note on the bedroom door which read: “Unless you are the emergency services do not enter. Chris and Alphira (Romeo and Juliet).”

They found the pair’s bodies in the bedroom, both dressed in their pyjamas. Music was playing and a film of Romeo and Juliet was in the DVD player, with a copy of the play open beside the bed.

Inquests into their deaths heard of the couple’s intense relationship since they tied the knot in 2005.

Deborah Jacobs, Alphira’s mother, said: “They did seem very wrapped up in each other, living and breathing for each other.”

Damian Walsh, from the community mental health team at Chichester’s Chapel Street Clinic, said: “I think the word that captures it better is enmeshed. They were very involved in one another.”

The pair were due to answer police bail the week after they died over historic sex offences.

Although the police probe was not openly discussed, the inquest heard the couple had been ‘distressed’ by a recent incident which had acted as a ‘trigger’.

“Both had had to give statements to the police, and both were distressed about their experience of this matter,” said Mr Walsh.

He had been sent a text message by Chris the day before the couple’s bodies were found which read: “Alphira and I have chosen to end our lives. We have suffered too long and cannot bear it any longer. The back door and gate are unlocked.”

Questions were raised after Mr Walsh, who had been treating Mr Stonehouse, did not read the message until the next morning. But he maintained it had not been a cry for help, adding: “Subsequent to the inquest, I was left in little doubt it was their intention to take their own lives.”

Isabel Fernandez, a psychiatrist at the Chapel Street Clinic who had been treating Alphira, told the inquest her patient had attempted to take her own life in May 2012.

“All the symptoms were related to something that had happened very recently,” she said. “Something happened with Alphira and with Chris –
a kind of trigger.

“She had a problem, Chris had a problem and they were at risk of very serious consequences that could change their lives. She couldn’t face the situation.”

It is believed the offences they were accused of took place in Haywards Heath, where they lived until January 2012. They first sought help from the Chapel Street Clinic in April 2012 because ‘they wanted to talk to someone as there had been a significant development in their lives’, said Mr Walsh.

But in October 2012, the pair withdrew from the mental health service because they felt Chris wasn’t getting the help he needed.

At a separate inquest into Chris’ death, assistant deputy coroner David Skipp said he had made it ‘quite clear’ what course of action he was embarking on, and had ‘ensured’ he would succeed in taking his own life.

“I have no hesitation in coming to a conclusion that Chris Mark Stonehouse took his own life,” he said.

Coroner Penelope Schofield recorded a similar verdict at the hearing into Alphira’s death on Tuesday.

“There were notes left that showed a clear indication that they intended to take their own lives,” she said.