The mother of a woman with epilepsy who died in 2016 hopes the high-profile murder of Diane Stewart may hold the key to determining her daughter’s cause of death.
Emily Whelan, 25, was found unconscious in her bedroom in Leeds on 7 November 2016 and pronounced dead in Leeds General Infirmary the following day.
Her parents were told that Whelan had had a seizure, but that she had never had any significant problems with the condition she had had since childhood. Whelan’s parents suspect she may have been murdered and believe that an acquaintance of hers has questions to answer.
Stewart, whose cause of death was also initially attributed to epilepsy in 2010, was found to have been murdered by her husband, Ian Stewart, during a trial earlier this year. The re-examination of her death was ordered after Ian Stewart was convicted of the murder of his new partner, children’s book author Helen Bailey, in 2017.
After Whelan’s death, a police investigation concluded that there was no third-party involvement and closed the case, while an inquest concluded that she had died in “circumstances consistent with a nighttime attack that had triggered cardiac arrest”.
While West Yorkshire Police say that conclusion stands and that an investigation has not been formally reopened, the Guardian can reveal that police are approaching another police unit in connection with the murder of Diane Stewart. There is no suggestion that Ian Stewart was involved in Whelan’s death.
A new examination of Diane Stewart’s brain revealed that it showed signs that “breathing was restricted” for 35 minutes to an hour before her death, ultimately helping to secure a conviction against her husband.
Whelan’s mother, Caramella Brennan, approached West Yorkshire Police with further questions after reading reports about the Stewart case. Brennan said slides of her daughter’s brain tissue had been preserved, meaning similar tests can be performed.
In March she approached the coroner’s office and shortly afterwards was contacted by the West Yorkshire Police who confirmed they would be in contact with the major crime units in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire investigating Stewart’s murder.
Obviously, the pathologist who performed the original autopsy, Dr. Matthew Lyall, is being considered to reexamine Whelan’s brain tissue.
Whelan, a health and social care graduate with aspirations to work with young offenders, had a baby while in college and completed her studies while raising the child and working part-time at a daycare center.
Investigations into her death were severely hampered by the failure of Leeds teaching hospitals NHS trust to preserve her body. About 10 months after Whelan’s death, a forensic postmortem was ordered, but when the pathologist came to examine her body, it was in decomposition.
The pathologist has “thought carefully” whether her death could have been caused “by injuries inflicted by another”. He said his examination of the body was “severely hampered by changes in decomposition”. He said that in the absence of apparent traumatic injury, he was considering the possibility of suffocation, meaning strangulation or suffocation.
He said the pathologist mentioned “some petechiae in the eyes” on the initial examination — small red spots that could be a sign of strangulation — but they were not visible by the time he performed his own assessment, adding “could have obscured the decompositional changes that were there”.
In a verdict handed down last year, a judge concluded that the NHS trust of teaching hospitals in Leeds had violated human rights law by failing to preserve Whelan’s body and awarded the family damages.
Brennan told the Guardian: “Despite the breathtaking incompetence of the morgues, the coroner’s office and certain police officers at the first look at the events surrounding Emily’s death, I hope the evidence will be found this time.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t think about Emily and miss them.”
A spokesman for the West Yorkshire Police said: “We can confirm that we are approaching the major crime units of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire to inquire about the circumstances of their investigation into the murder of Diane Stewart, after the case has been brought to us by the Emily’s family was highlighted Whelan.
“At this point, there is no change from our previous conclusion that Emily’s death was not suspicious without third-party involvement.”