Charity stalwart died after long struggle with drink, inquest told

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THE brother of charity stalwart Annabel Sykes, who was found dead after losing a long battle with drink, has told of his regret at the “sad and wasteful” way her life ended.

She was discovered on February 15 at the home she shared in Sledmere, East Yorkshire, with her husband Jeremy Sykes, brother of Sir Tatton Sykes.

An inquest heard Mrs Sykes, 58, younger daughter of the late Sir Alexander Macdonald of Sleat and the late Lady Mary Macdonald, of Thorpe Hall, Rudston, had struggled with alcohol addiction and attended several clinics. Empty bottles of wine and vodka were found in the house.

The cause of death was given by Dr Anne Campbell at the inquest in Hull yesterday as acute alcohol intoxication.

Tests established that Mrs Sykes – described as “extremely capable, great fun and with many friends” – had 500 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, which would have made her more than six times the legal drink-drive limit. Coroner Geoffrey Saul said: “It was a level that toxicologists said was a potentially fatal level and would depress the breathing centres in the brain.”

Recording a verdict of accidental death, he said it had been “the body’s reaction to a very high level of alcohol at one particular time.”

On the morning of February 15, Mrs Sykes, of The Villa, Sledmere, had attended communion at All Saints’ church in Driffield, and was due to be taken by a friend to visit her husband who was in Castle Hill Hospital for surgery.

When the friend Christopher Barr was unable to find her he called on Lady Swinton – Mr Sykes’ first wife – who lives nearby, and they both went to The Villa to look for her. They discovered her body in the downstairs lavatory.

The inquest heard that earlier that day Lady Swinton had found Mrs Sykes “a little unsteady on her feet” when she had gone to her house to take the dog for a walk. They returned to The Villa just before 9am in time for Mrs Sykes to get her lift to church.

Margaret Richardson, who brought her home, had become friendly with Mrs Sykes through the church.

She said Mrs Sykes was coping “but very worried about Jeremy; like all people who drink I know, it didn’t appear to excess.”

Asked about her state of inebriation she replied: “Normal I would have thought for her, she was perfectly able to get in and out of the car and talk to everybody at church.

“Certainly none of them thought she had had a drink.”

In a statement read to the inquest, her brother Sir Ian Macdonald of Sleat said: “It was apparent from her early 20s she was a great party girl and enjoyed a drink. Regretfully over time her drinking became worse.”

She had been to three specialist clinics, including The Retreat at York, and one in Jersey four or five years ago. The statement continued: “The effect lasted no longer usually than six months before Annabel started drinking heavily again.

“Despite loyal and loving support from her family and friends Annabel could not defeat her addiction to drink. We last met some time after Christmas although she was often on the telephone.

“Her husband Jeremy was very patient with her and received much valued support from Lord and Lady Swinton and her brother-in-law Sir Tatton Sykes.

“Annabel sober was an extremely capable person, great fun and with many friends and it was so sad and wasteful that such a life should end prematurely this way.”

Her GP Dr Guy Clarkson, also in a statement, said he’d personally seen Mrs Sykes on three occasions – including in October 2010 when she had fallen and broken her collar bone after drinking. He added: “At that time she said she was back on track and was going to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Mrs Sykes was well-known for her charity work and was a keen supporter of Riding for the Disabled at Rudston and the Bridlington Ladies Lifeboat Guild.

A one time clerk to Sledmere Parish Council, she also worked as a breakfast cook at the Cranedale Field Studies Centre at Kirby Grindalythe and as a cook at the Triton Inn, Sledmere.