Mysterious note and death of man in Thames remain unexplained following inquest

James Hockaday

A note with a man’s name and address and the word ‘gone’ was found near Eton Excelsior Rowing Club after his body was discovered in the river, an inquest heard yesterday (Wednesday).

Barry Stewart, from Church Road in Ascot, was found floating in the Thames near the club off Maidenhead Road by rowers on October 9.

Speaking at the inquest at Reading Town Hall, coroner Peter Bedford said Mr Stewart’s blue pull-string bag, which was on his back and kept afloat by a half filled bottle of water, was spotted by several rowers.

The inquest heard how after police were called to the scene, they searched the area and found a note by the riverbank nearby reading ‘Barry Stewart’ followed by his address and the word ‘gone’ in bold capital letters.

By the note was an empty pack of paracetamol tablets.

A toxicology report showed traces of the painkiller in the 68-year-old’s system which were higher than a normal level but not toxic, as well as a high but therapeutic level of anti-depressant Amitriptyline.

Mr Bedford said Mr Stewart had been diagnosed as having ‘general anxiety disorder’ in 1995.

The inquest heard how a few weeks before his death, Mr Stewart told a friend he was depressed and had seen a doctor about it.

A post-mortem showed Mr Stewart’s lungs were not full of water despite his body being found in the river and there were no obvious external injuries.

Mr Bedford said people can go into a state of shock when submerged in water, which blocks off the air flow and is known as dry drowning.

However, a report from the post-mortem said it ‘could not give an ascertainable cause of death’.

Because of this Mr Bedford recorded an open verdict.

He said the ‘cryptic’ note on the side of the river was not enough to say Mr Stewart had killed himself.

He added: “It’s a slightly bizarre set of circumstances.

“As a coroner I can only record someone as taking their own life if I’m satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that someone intended to end their life.

“The only hint we have is ‘gone’, there’s nothing else. In itself, it’s not enough.”

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