FEARS over the condition of a dilapidated house were raised more than a year before two reclusive women were found dead inside.
Oxford City Council was alerted to the Littlemore home in June 2012 but enquiries stopped when the homeowners – mother and daughter Pauline and Caroline Jessett – did not answer the door.
The bodies of the two women were later discovered at 14 Cowley Road in November last year and neighbours reported they had not seen the family for at least six months.
Documents obtained by the Oxford Mail under the Freedom of Information Act show the city council had “several requests for intervention over the last few years” before the discovery.
An Oxford property manager who asked not to be named said: “Had the city council taken action in June 2012, one of those ladies might have been alive today.”
He added: “The place was totally unfit for human inhabitation. It should have never been allowed to continue.”
Concerns about the poor condition of the house were raised by a council inspector visiting neighbouring number 16 in summer 2012.
The next mention in council papers was on November 15 last year when the authority’s private sector safety team wrote to the women announcing a visit on November 21. The council had been contacted by worried residents.
When council staff visited the property, the police were called and officers went inside to find the body of a woman in her 50s – believed to be that of Caroline Jessett – in the first-floor bedroom.
The body of her 78-year-old mother was found downstairs a week later after the house had been stabilised using building supports.
In an email exchange on November 8 between council officers before an inspection visit, an Environmental Health officer wrote: “We have had several requests for intervention over the last few years, but nothing substantial has ever been carried out.”
It also said the owner of the neighbouring house, number 16, was “very worried” his property would be affected by the state of number 14.
John Tanner, city councillor for Littlemore, said: “With hindsight, the council should have asked the police to go in earlier.
“It is a reminder to people that we have to look after our neighbours even if it that seems intrusive.”
But he said police and the council should not be easily given the power to break into people’s homes.
Oxford City Council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said the house came to their attention during a visit to another house.
She said: “When officers visited the property, they got no reply. As our focus is on the private rented sector and the property was owner occupied, it was not a priority.”
Neighbour, 83-year-old Raymond Bailey, said Pauline Jessett had been bed-ridden after a horse riding accident and he had not seen her for 30 years.
He also said he had not seen her daughter for six months before the discovery.
He said the house had been in a poor state for years and the family would not have wanted anyone to interfere, adding: “They were recluses. They wouldn’t want me in there anyway.”