A HIGHLY-RESPECTED coroner from Alderley Edge killed herself with a lethal dose of medication after she was left a 'broken lady' over fears her reputation would be trashed in public by a disgruntled work colleague, an inquest heard.

Professor Jennifer Leeming, 69, had been due to retire after suffering bouts of severe ill health — but she was worried she might be embroiled in a scandal after the staff member made complaints about her to a newspaper.

Five months before she was due to leave her post after 18 years of service, Prof Leeming was found dead in bed by her husband at their home in Brook Lane, after they spent the previous evening listening to classical music by Mozart.

Tests showed the respected lawyer, who suffered from ill health, had toxic levels of medication in her system.

In the days before her death Prof Leeming had told a fellow coroner, 'I just don’t have the fight in me', and is thought to have used knowledge she learnt at inquests about lethal morphine levels to take her own life.

She had also previously joked about a vial of medication she secretly kept at home to take in case she was struck down by a terminal illness.

Prof Leeming who became a coroner in 2001 had presided over hundreds of inquest hearings mainly in Bolton and was among the first to call for new laws to protect potential victims of domestic violence.

The mother of one also lectured at Bolton University's School of Law, sat on the governing board and served as a non-executive director of East Cheshire NHS Trust.

The tragedy occurred on January 3 this year just two weeks after Prof Leeming who had recently suffered severe heart palpitations and a shoulder injury due to a fall outside her office, learnt of the allegation about her after speaking to officials at Bolton Council.

Fellow coroner Alan Walsh said: ''December 21 was a defining time for her. She came to see me at lunchtime and told me about a complaint and allegation made by a member of staff which was direct to a local newspaper.

"She had immediately gone to the Council telling them what she knew but the council were not concerned about the complaint and gave her their full support.

''I have also found nothing to support whatever this complaint or allegation was.

''She was just shocked a member of her staff whom she supported now made that sort of complaint direct to a local newspaper without going to the council or via a direct channel at work.

''She said she was going to spend Christmas with her family and I wasn’t expecting her to come back until January 3 or 4 but on December 30, a Sunday I was at home when I had a telephone call and she said she needed to see me.

''We arranged to meet at the Coroner’s office at 2pm and she said about her health issue. She had dramatically changed how from she was from December 21. She was tired and she told me about the palpitations. She told me she had been to see the GP and she would be away from the office for a few days.

''She had became more concerned about the emerging allegation and she mentioned there may be a scandal. I said there was nothing in the allegation and there was no need for her to be concerned but she was very tired.

''During that conversation retirement was mentioned. She had always intended to retire at 75, which allowed her to become the president of the Coronial Society but on that day she said she felt she wanted to retire earlier. I said I thought she shouldn’t make any rash decision and she should make time to get herself better.

''She arranged to come in again on December 31 as she wanted to tell the staff herself about her health problems. She arrived mid to late morning. She seemed better both physically and in her demeanour, she was very sort of open with her staff and told them about her health problems. She told them 'you’re not going to see me for a few days'.

''I later went to see her in her office and she talked about the palpitations and the issue and I tried to talk her round and said to her there was nothing in it and told her to get better and face these things.

"I said there was nothing to worry about but she said she didn’t have the strength and when I said: 'you have to get up and fight' she said 'I don't have the fight in me'.

''She was a broken lady which was totally out of character for her. People know how strong she was and this would never have been seen before. I still believe this was her health exacerbated by this issue.''

Prof Leeming's husband Michael, an investment broker, told the inquest: ''I did think she had a lot of stress as she had many roles in addition to being a Coroner, there was a lot of pressure and she was getting tired. Personally at the time I remember thinking she was overdoing it and taking too much on and that may have aggravated her position.

''She referred to the pressure at work and feeling more tired than usual. Jennifer wanted to work until she was 75 but before her death she decided to take early retirement on health grounds. It wasn’t a sudden decision.

"The palpitations were causing her to feel more tired and stressed and towards the end of December it seems that things were getting out of hand.

''We spoke about the idea of her retiring on her 70th birthday. I didn’t expect her to warm to the idea and I remember being surprised when she said about retiring on her 70th birthday.

"At the same time I thought she would benefit from a break from work and some time off in January to get herself back to her normal self.

''On December 21 there was an issue at work, that was the first day she went on leave. It was something she became aware of and at the time I thought it was a nuisance over Christmas.

"She was annoyed and she was upset. She went into the office on December 30 and I went with her because of the palpitations and her general feeling of exhaustion and tiredness.

''She wanted to discuss these points with Mr Walsh and to address the staff personally to say she would be away for a period of a few weeks rather than let the message filter out. My impression was that she immediately seemed to be more relaxed and at ease and the evening of January 2 she seemed to me to be more relaxed.


''She didn’t indicate she was planning to harm herself or take her own life.”

Police found no suicide note at Prof Leeming's home. Tests showed she had swallowed the medication.

Recording a conclusion of suicide, Cheshire coroner Alan Moore said: "Mrs Leeming was a coroner of vast experience, she was kind, compassionate and a dedicated professional. She made a real difference to many people's lives. She cared deeply about people and will be very much missed, but her legacy will endure.''

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