Bodies of sisters, aged 86 and 90, found decomposing in their home six months after they died - when council staff arrived to evict them for rent arrears

Two elderly sisters aged in their late 80s and early 90s were found dead in their flat on Club Garden Road, Highfield, on May 2023.Two elderly sisters aged in their late 80s and early 90s were found dead in their flat on Club Garden Road, Highfield, on May 2023.
Two elderly sisters aged in their late 80s and early 90s were found dead in their flat on Club Garden Road, Highfield, on May 2023.
An inquest into the deaths of two elderly women in a Sheffield council flat was unable to establish how they died.

An inquest into the deaths of two elderly sisters in Sheffield heard an exact cause of death could not be determined. The bodies of Ann and Christine Hughes, aged 86 and 90, were found by Sheffield City Council staff on May 12 last year, Medico Legal-Centre heard on April 12. The Dublin-born sisters were found in the living room of their home on Club Garden Road, Highfield, when the council forced entry to evict them for being in £1,200 rent arrears. The gas and electricity had been switched off.

Two elderly sisters aged in their late 80s and early 90s were found deceased in their flat on Club Garden Road, Highfield, on May 2023.Two elderly sisters aged in their late 80s and early 90s were found deceased in their flat on Club Garden Road, Highfield, on May 2023.
Two elderly sisters aged in their late 80s and early 90s were found deceased in their flat on Club Garden Road, Highfield, on May 2023.

The joint inquest heard that they had both been found in a state of decomposition. Assistant coroner Alexandra Pountney suggested it was likely the pair had passed away in November 2022 as this was the last time rent was paid, but an exact date of death could not be given.

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A post-mortem examination read out in court heard that the pair were found dressed in ‘numerous’ clothes, and some used tissues suggested an upper respiratory infection. While Ann, a retired shop assistant, and Christine, a retired nurse, both had signs of a lung infection, the pathologist said they had a “complex cause of death” that could be age and fragility, background disease, or poor social circumstances. As such, their medical causes of death were ruled as ‘unascertained’. Ms Pountney said she had considered the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, but there was no evidence to suggest this in a toxicology report. The boiler had also been disconnected, but it was found to be working properly by the police force.

Giving evidence, police constable Alison Healey, said South Yorkshire Police had been contacted by the council on the morning the women were found deceased. The criminal investigation department found nothing suspicious. PC Healey said: “By initial presentation, it looked like they had some sort of infection. They were quite well dressed and then they passed away due to the temperature at that time of year.”

The nephew of the sisters, Ian, told the court that a letter addressed from the council showed that they had believed the property had been abandoned. He said: “They used to pay their rent every week at the post office. Why would two women in their 80s and 90s abandon a property?”

Recording an open conclusion into Ann and Christine’s deaths, Ms Pountney said: “The sisters showed signs of decomposition in situ for some considerable time before they were found. E.ON and British Gas showed the utilities had been shut off for an undetermined time, but the last payment was made on 18th November 2022. Ultimately, professor Suvarna [the pathologist] was unable to assist me with the medical cause of death.”

She concluded that Ann and Christine were pronounced dead on May 12 2023, and how they came by their deaths is unascertained.

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