MYSTERY still surrounds the death of a Widnes mum found dead on the banks of the Mersey who went missing from Runcorn's Brooker Centre last year.

The body of 39-year-old Heather King of Princess Street, Kingsway, was found a week before Christmas by a man walking his dog near Hale Village lighthouse.

An inquest heard last week that the mum-of-five died from dry drowning - where a victim's airways automatically block because of the shock of entering cold water, causing asphyxiation despite no water entering the lungs.

But Deputy Coroner for Cheshire Dr Janet Napier returned an open verdict and said that no-one could be sure what happened to Heather in the days between disappearing from the centre on November 25 - where she was being treated for depression - and being found dead on December 17.

"We don't know what was going through her mind when she went out that night," Dr Napier said. "The police were told immediately and carried out an investigation but no-one could trace her.

"I have got to be absolutely certain that she intended to take her own life but we simply don't know.

"It looks like she has fallen but whether that was by accident or deliberate, she was in tremendous turmoil."

The inquest heard how Ms King had suffered years of depression following a string of failed marriages since she moved to first Runcorn then Widnes, from North Wales.

A friend, Hannah Lonsdale, of Hough Green, said Ms King had been treated for a number of nervous breakdowns caused by relationship problems while she knew her but added that they fell out after Ms King turned to drug abuse.

"I saw her a couple of times in passing and she wasn't the same person I once knew," Ms Lonsdale said.

Neighbour Linda Quinn, who used to invite her in for a cup of tea, said: "When she was on her own she was fine but when her partner was there she was really down and depressed. He wasn't good for her at all."

She was last seen leaving the centre to buy cigarettes from a nearby garage after a month's treatment.

Centre staff told the inquest she had been 're-graded' after making good progress and was allowed off-site for short periods of time with permission.

But she had been living in fear of reprisals from her violent partner who had been arrested for the serious assault that triggered her last nervous breakdown before she died.

Recording an open verdict, Dr Napier said: "This is a very sad situation where a lady has been in turmoil for many years. She coped with the stress in her life with great difficulty. She was trying to help herself but unfortunately it was only ever going to lead to further problems."