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Nov 2, 2011
by Laurie Stocks-Moore
A DIVORCED father-of-two from Ellesmere Port who went missing on his sister’s wedding day committed suicide, an inquest heard.
John Michael Thomas Burke, 38, a groundsman who lived with his parents in Straker Avenue, vanished on August 7 last year – triggering a police search that stretched from Chester to Birkenhead.
More than six months later, on February 15 this year, his body was found hanged from a tree on a railway embankment in Mollington.
Coroner for Cheshire Nicholas Rheinberg said it was possible Mr Burke, who had been low in mood after the breakdown of his marriage, had been there the whole time.
Mr Burke was getting ready to be one of the groomsmen before his sister tied the knot on Saturday, August 7, 2010. He left the house at 9.30am, leaving the morning suit he had hired hanging up, and told the rest of the wedding party he was going to buy cigarettes.
But Mr Burke never returned.
The inquest, held at Chester, Ellesmere Port and Neston Magistrates Court on Friday, heard Mr Burke’s dental records had to be used to confirm his identity.
His mum, Karen Burke, told the inquest her son had disappeared without leaving a note.
She recalled Mr Burke ‘went quiet’ in the run-up to his sister’s wedding.
“He was his usual self that Friday,” she said. “He was laughing and having a bit of a joke.”
Mr Burke spent the evening with his future brother-in-law Colin Williamson and ushers.
His mum said: “They went back to the flat. They had fish and chips and a few cans and went to bed early.
“He got up as usual, had a shower and cut his hair. He said he was going for cigarettes and that was it.
“John was late for everything. You could never rush him so we thought he’s gone off for a walk somewhere and lost track of time and he was late.
“We took the suit with us and left a message on his phone to get to the church and get changed there.”
The wedding, and a honeymoon in Alicante, Spain, went ahead.
When sister Kate Williamson returned, she and his mum made an emotional Press appeal for Mr Burke to get in touch.
It emerged during the inquest that Mr Burke had sought help for depression after the breakdown of his marriage.
In a statement read out by the coroner, his GP Dr Phipps at Oldhall Surgery said he had complained of a low mood in October 2009, had anxiety, mood swings and poor sleep. He said he had occasional thoughts of self-harm.
He said: “He had broken up with his wife, had no job and reported previous cannabis use. He said he was feeling very low.”
Mr Burke was put on a course of antidepressant fluoxetine and sleeping tablets.
Todd Jones of the primary care mental health team said: “He was reluctant to elaborate on his current issues but admitted he felt low in mood and described suicidal ideation.”
Mr Burke had stressed he did not intend to kill himself.
But on February 15, his body was discovered by a contractor for Story Rail, whose services were enlisted by Network Rail on Tuesday, February 15.
Civil engineer Jonathan Paul Fearon, from Newton-le-Willows, told the inquest he had been surveying tracks for works to be carried out the following weekend when something caught his eye at about 1.25pm.
“We were waiting for permission to cross the viaduct when I noticed something down in the trees,” he said. “I made my way down the embankment to see what it was.
“I shouted to my colleague to call the police as I realised what it was.
“Any railway worker or passengers on the train could have seen it, but you would have had to look hard to notice it.
“I walked down to three or four metres away – I didn’t want to go any further.”
DC Amanda Joan Mines told the inquest: “We used police dogs, aircraft, an underwater search team, a volunteer search team.
“I spoke to somebody who worked for the underwater search team.
“They advised me people who do not want to be found will make sure they’re not found. It was a deliberately remote location.”
A post-mortem examination determined he had died by hanging.
The coroner said Mr Burke died by his own hand and ‘it might well have been about the time he went missing’.
Mr Burke left two children, a boy and a girl, aged 11 and 13.