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Lord's daughter-in-law fell 60ft to her death
6:02pm Wednesday 14th November 2012 in News
The daughter-in-law of former foreign secretary Lord Hurd plunged 60ft from the top of her New York house two days before the family were due to return to the UK, an inquest heard today.
Catherine Hurd, 46, who was known as Sian, climbed a ladder, went through a hatch and stepped off the roof of the four-storey house in the fashionable Upper East Side of the city on May 21 last year.
Her body was found in the back garden of the house at 455 East 84th Street by her husband, British diplomat Thomas Hurd, who went looking for her when he woke and she was not beside him.
She was pronounced dead in hospital and died from multiple blunt impact injuries.
Central Hampshire Coroner Grahame Short told the hearing in Winchester the fall was ''more than likely an intentional act'' but he recorded an open verdict.
He said the mother-of-five, who took an overdose in 2007 after a nervous breakdown, was anxious and possibly depressed but he could not be certain it was suicide, as no note was found, or an accident, as no one saw the fall in the early hours.
A report from the New York Police Department ruled out foul play, and a footprint was discovered on the roof heading in the direction of the ledge as well as mud on the ladder.
The body was found 18 feet away from the building.
Mr Hurd told the hearing the house had been packed up as the family were moving back to London on May 23 after his three-year posting at the nearby United Nations.
At the time, the couple's three children, Benedict, Oliver and Hannah, were living at the house and the family were moving back to Garfield Road in the capital.
''She was looking forward to returning home. We were going through a period of transition both logistically and we were also confronted by some family illness,'' he explained.
He said that the day before her death, his wife, who did not work, was tired and had trouble sleeping and had taken small doses of sedatives although she usually avoided pills.
''She was in a good mood, not an excessively good mood. She had lunch at the Museum Of Modern Art with our son and she sent emails to some friends.
''She had conversations with family about how she was looking forward to coming home. She organised a number of deliveries and went to bed early at 10pm. There was nothing untoward during the day.''
Mr Hurd, a Middle East expert who was working with the UN Security Council at the time, said he went to bed at midnight and his wife was asleep.
He then woke up and his wife was not there.
''Between three and four in the morning I searched for her and could not find her in the house, and then I found her in the garden and I tried to resuscitate her and then called an ambulance.''
He said his wife was unconscious when he found her and he had not been aware she had gone on to the roof using the hatch as that was not part of her usual behaviour.
Asked by Mr Short if he could tell whether she had jumped or fell, Mr Hurd replied: ''We will never know.''
He said that later that day he found recent cigarette butts of Mrs Hurd's brand on the roof.
He explained his wife had taken an overdose of sedatives in 2007 ''after a sudden nervous breakdown'' that caused her to be treated in hospital.
He said his wife seemingly made a quick recovery and did not want to talk about it.
Her father, retired GP Roland Aubrey, told the inquest that the type of benzodiazepine sedatives his daughter had taken could cause an altered mental state.
''We were a very close family. She gave us a lot of pleasure and a lot of fun when we saw her and she had five children which contributed to that.''
He said there had been no indication to him or his wife that their daughter was depressed when they had talked.
''But having said that she was under strain. It's no mean feat to pack to come home for the last time,'' he added.
Recording his verdict, Mr Short said the information he had was limited but he was satisfied there was no foul play.
He said Mrs Hurd could be anxious but she was not receiving treatment for depression.
''I cannot know for sure what was on her mind or whether she was intending to plan to take her life or not.
''However, it's more likely than not this was an intentional act but I have to reach a verdict based on the evidence.
''She was probably feeling depressed, it does not necessarily follow she jumped.''
He also explained that the fall was not witnessed and so he could not be certain it was an accident.
''Cases such as this, however they happen, leave a terrible shock and void for the family,'' he told the relatives.
''There is no doubt this was a tragedy for Mr Hurd and the entire family. I'm sure you will never forget her.''
Mr Hurd is the son of former Conservative minister Douglas Hurd, 82, now Lord Hurd of Westwell.