A retired Devon postmaster who was jailed for fraud while running Starcross Post Office passed away at home alone and wasn’t found until weeks later.

An inquest held in Plymouth yesterday (November 24) heard how the body of 63-year-old Peter Huxham was so badly decomposed by the time police officers searched his flat that the cause of his death was unable to be confirmed.

A concern for welfare was reported to police on July 26, 2020, after concerns were raised to the landlord of Western House, Gatehouse Hill, Dawlish, where Mr Huxham lived.

Neighbours reported seeing a build of mail in his letterbox, and flies on the glass inside the frontdoor.

Police attended his first-floor flat later that day after being a key by the landlord and discovered Mr Huxham on the floor in his lounge.

Peter Huxham pictured at Starcross Post Office

In a statement, police confirmed his body was ‘significantly’ decomposed and that there had been signs of any forced entry.

It was noted that a bottle of milk had been found with an expiry date of July 16.

DS Peter Morgan said: “It is believed he passed away some weeks before his body was found, and he had been left undisturbed until the attendance of police.”

A report from Mr Huxham’s GP told how he had a history of alcohol abuse since 2009. In 2015 he suffered a single major depressive episode. He had also being diagnosed with other health problems including high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease.

The GP confirmed he had not seen Mr Huxham since March 2019, when he reported feeling better daily.

For more of the latest news near you, sign up to receive our newsletters.

The daily and weekly bulletins are simple, easy to read and we’ll only send the most important stories.

Our teams are committed to bringing you the latest news, guiding you through this global pandemic and writing the stories that matter.

See our Devon newsletters here, sign up for bulletins from Cornwall here and pick your Plymouth emails here.

However, he was still having issues with alcohol, which he was referred for help for, and told a practice nurse at the surgery in November 2019 that he was consuming 42 units a week.

Mr Huxham, who was born in Torquay and was single, was reported to have not engaged with a local alcohol service, and he only had ‘very brief’ contact with mental health services in 2013 to 2014, because it was deemed the main issue was alcohol and there was ‘no sign’ of mental health issues.

The cause of his death was confirmed as being unascertained due to his body being severely decomposed.

The post-mortem examination report said: “From his clinical history, it is likely he died fairly suddenly and had not been found for a long period of time.”

Recording an open conclusion, assistant coroner Stephen Covell said: “It is unfortunately rather an unsatisfactory state of affairs that I cannot give any helpful conclusions as to the precise circumstances of Peter’s death.

“He lived alone and died some weeks previously, and as a result his body was badly decomposed and it was not possible to give a cause of death.

“There were no suspicious circumstances.”

In March 2019, the Express and Echo reported how Mr Huxham, then aged 52, was jailed for eight months at Exeter Crown Court, after admitting one offence of fraud while running Starcross Post Office.

An attempt to wrongly raise suspicions that his estranged wife stole £16,000 from his store failed to save him from prison.

The offence involved stealing £16,158 from the store, from October 2008, until his crimes were discovered by auditors in a visit in September 2009.

You can stay up-to-date on the top news near you with DevonLive’s FREE newsletters – find out more about our range of daily and weekly bulletins and sign up here or enter your email address at the top of the page.

Judge Philip Wassall told Mr Huxham that he had let the community down as Starcross had been left without a post office. He had previously run the branch for around 25 years.

The court heard that the defendant’s parents, who were not involved in his crimes, had since paid the money back on his behalf.

Mr Huxham told the court that he could not explain how the money had gone missing.

Judge Wassall said he would not accept this and Huxham was called into the witness box after he failed to give a further explanation.

The defendant then said “I suspected it was my wife”, adding that they had been married 22 years but she had now started divorce proceedings.

Mr Huxham said that small amounts, which were not included in the total, disappeared initially. He described repaying them out of his own money, thinking they were genuine mistakes.

He told the court that he then became suspicious that his wife was taking the money and could be spending some of it on horses that she kept in fields near Powderham.

He added: “I loved the woman, I didn’t want to think she could lie to me. It’s my fault, I didn’t seek help.”

Prosecutor David Evans questioned Mr Huxham about why amounts of money which eventually totalled £17,000 were paid into his building society account.

Mr Huxham replied that it was initially a joint account, although it had become a solo one in his name in 2008, and that it was money for expenses including a tax bill.

Mr Evans said: “Your home circumstances are tricky, you have trouble with the taxman, you’re drinking a lot.”

Judge Wassall also questioned the defendant, about why he had not taken security steps at the post office to stop people including his wife potentially having access to money there.

Defence counsel Peter Seigne, in mitigation, said his client had shown ‘extreme reluctance to point the finger at anybody at all’.

Judge Wassall told Mr Huxham: “I do not accept the suspicions you put forward that your wife may have took it, it’s an unacceptable account. You fail to explain adequately, that’s all I can say.”

He added: “The post office of Starcross has closed its doors and the community there have lost their facilities. “You have failed to satisfactorily account for it. By any measure, that is a substantial breach of trust.”





Source link