Depressed school secretary drowned

6:57pm Tuesday 5th February 2008

Evidence from the best friend of Susan Bark, who threw herself into the River Thames at Iffley Lock, was heard from beyond the grave at her inquest today.

Ms Bark, 54, of East Avenue, Oxford, a former secretary at the Swan School of English, threw herself into the river last August after suffering ongoing problems with anxiety and depression, Oxfordshire coroner Nicholas Gardiner ruled.

During the hearing at County Hall, Mr Gardiner heard a statement from her best friend Vera Holmes, 57, a teacher at New Marston Primary School, whose own body was recovered from the same stretch of river on January 28.

The tragic pair had known each another since primary school and Ms Holmes told the hearing she knew her friend had suffered mental problems from February.

Ms Holmes wrote: "Since then, Susan had suffered anxiety about a number of things.

"They had become overwhelming and I know she was receiving medical treatment."

Dr Christine Collin, of Adderbury Avenue, Oxford, had been walking with her family near Iffley Lock when Ms Bark drowned.

She told the hearing she saw Ms Bark sitting by the river with her legs dangling over the edge before she pushed herself into the water. "She looked quite calm," she said.

Dr Collin's daughter Beth added in a statement: "She must have heard us coming because she looked at me and smiled. I made eye contact. I thought it was all a little weird. Then she dropped from view."

Mr Gardiner also heard how lock-keeper Austin Orchard entered the river attached to a safety rope to try to pull Ms Bark from the water, but could not reach her.

Friends of Ms Bark paid tribute to her after the inquest. Denise Bright, who worked alongside Ms Bark at the Swan School for 25 years, said: "She was the kindest person in the world."

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