'Depressed' public school teacher threw himself from church roof two weeks before birth of first child

Last updated at 20:03 23 January 2008

A public school teacher fell to his death from a church tower after becoming irrationally worried about the birth of his first child, an inquest heard yesterday.

Dr David Brunton was just days from becoming a father when the horror unfolded in front of a group of schoolchildren at the Oxford university church of St Mary the Virgin, which has frequently been used as backdrop in the Inspector Morse TV series.

He had been due to visit his GP that day.

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The tragedy sent shockwaves through Magdalen College School for boys in Oxford where he was "a well-liked housemaster whose lively exterior hid a personal conflict".

GP Fiona MacKenzie told the hearing that he was hearing voices in his head and had become increasingly anxious about the baby shortly before the tragedy last March.

The media studies and English teacher had struggled with depression for more than 20 years, becoming increasingly ill in the months leading up to his death.

Dr Brunton, from Hinton Waldrist in Oxfordshire, admitted himself to The Priory clinic but just a day before his death he discharged himself against the wishes of his supervising psychiatrist.

His wife Jenny Liddiard gave birth to their first child, Isabel Rose, just two weeks after he died.

The inquest heard that Dr Brunton's mental condition had been deteriorating steadily following a holiday in late 2006.

He was seen on the church tower by a teacher with a group of Spanish schoolchildren but they had left by the time police arrived.

Coroner Nicholas Gardiner returned an open verdict although he said it was "highly likely" that Dr Brunton, an Oxford University graduate, intended to end his own life.

In a statement, his GP Dr Fiona MacKenzie, said: "He said that the voices (in his head) were becoming a lot worse and David was getting a lot of anxiety about the baby."

Dr MacKenzie revealed that early last year, the teacher had written two separate suicide notes.

When he was admitted to The Priory he was placed on 30-minute observation watch.

On March 20 the doctor received a phone call from her patient's wife to say he had discharged himself.

An emergency appointment was made, but he never arrived, the inquest heard.

Old friend Caroline Connelly told how she collected the teacher from the Oxford tube coach from London on the evening of March 19 and tried to take him back to The Priory.

She said: "I'm not sure if he discharged himself or not as he used the word "escaped".

"When he phoned me I asked how he was and he said 'elated, I escaped.'

She abandoned her attempts to get him back to hospital after he repeatedly tried to get out of the car and he stayed instead at her home, arranging to see his doctor the following morning.

She last saw him alive when she dropped him in the city centre at 9.30am on March 20, thinking he would go straight to the doctor.

At the time, Dr Brunton's wife, who was eight months pregnant and suffering complications, was at her parents' home in Cheshire.

She discovered that her husband's phone was switched off and just before noon that day police were called to the church tower where his body had been found.

Chen Ke, a student working at the church, overlooking the world famous Bodleian Library, had allowed a large group of Spanish schoolchildren and their teachers up into the tower when he heard a 'loud bang'.

"A female came into the shop and said someone fell. I was very scared," he told the inquest.

"One of the teachers came down from the tower to say she had seen a man stood on the tower."

The group of students who may have witnessed Mr Brunton's fall left before police could interview them and the court heard that officers had not been able to find any proof that the 39-year-old teacher had deliberately thrown himself off the tower.

Coroner Nicholas Gardiner concluded he could not be certain of Dr Brunton's precise intentions or actions.

Mr Gardiner explained to the family that without positive proof of an intended suicide he would have to return an open verdict, although he added that it was "highly likely" that Mr Brunton, an Oxford University graduate, intended to end his own life.

Dr Brunton's were too upset to comment after the inquest in Oxford.

At the time of his death neighbours told how "warm and friendly" Dr Brunton and his wife had been eagerly planning the arrival of their daughter.

Meanwhile in a tribute at the time Andrew Halls, master of the school, said:

"David Brunton was an inspirational teacher and a housemaster of enormous compassion and insight.

"As a colleague, he was energetic, larger than life, perceptive and with a very bright thread of humour and wit. He will be greatly missed and impossible to replace."