The brother of a man who died from a fractured skull fears vital evidence was lost after a near-five year delay in holding an inquest.

Police launched a murder probe when Peter Henderson, 58, was found dead in his flat in Rose Hill, Oxford, and three people were arrested, then released without charge.

Yesterday an inquest into his death in July, 2002 was held and an open verdict was recorded because Oxfordshire's deputy coroner Dorothy Flood could not be certain what had happened to Mr Henderson.

Mrs Flood apologised to his brother Alex Henderson yesterday for the delay.

Pathologist Nicholas Hunt told the inquest Mr Henderson was found dead in Danvers Road, Rose Hill, in July 2002 with bleeding on the brain caused by fractures to the back of his skull.

Dr Hunt's report added it was more likely the injury was caused by a fall than a blow to the head and Mr Henderson was an alcoholic with an abnormally thin skull and a history of blackouts and seizures.

Det Sgt Kevin McGuire told the inquest an extensive murder investigation was launched, but no forensic evidence or bloodstains were found in the flat.

Mrs Flood said: "There are inconsistencies and gaps in evidence provided by various witnesses. Whether this is because of a lack of memory or other reasons why they haven't given full evidence, it is difficult to say. On the balance of probabilities, it could have been a fall but there could have been other people involved in the fall."

After the inquest, Alex Henderson said the wait had cost the family the chance of learning the truth behind his brother's death.

He said: "I find Oxford coroners to be absolutely deplorable. They have never replied to any of my inquiries.

"The only answer I have had is Oxford has been delayed by soldiers, but many of the death of service personnel have occurred after my brother died in 2002 and the simple fact is there is no order of priority."

He said evidence from his brother's partner, Christine Henderson, could have been crucial in the hearing but she died in 2005 before the inquest was held.

He said she had been threatened not to give evidence and had heard a confession from someone who admitted being responsible for her partner's death.