A PENSIONER who drowned himself in the river near his home suffered a religious psychotic episode, an inquest heard.

In the months before his death, Derek West had taken to preaching on street corners, sleeping in his allotment shed and fasting, in a belief God had called on him.

The 78-year-old also told his GP he thought newspaper and radio headlines contained messages for him.

It was the first and only such episode since an attack in 1977 when he put his hand through a window and was sectioned for several weeks.

An inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court heard on Thursday the latest problems began in August last year.

Mr West and his wife Hilary, who were married for 45 years, lived on Meadow Lane, Witney.

One day Mrs West discovered her husband had left and pushed his keys back through the letter box.

In a statement read out to the inquest she recalled: "He was sleeping in at his allotment and coming home for meals.

"He became obsessively religious, preaching on the street in Witney town centre and reading his bible."

Mr West, a bellringer at St Mary's Church in Witney, became 'obsessed' with the idea that 'bad things were happening in the world', she said.

He started giving extra money to charity and befriended a Syrian family in Witney.

After a meeting with psychiatrist Dr Megan Theodoulou on August 24, he was diagnosed with a delusional disorder and prescribed anti-psychotic Risperidone.

His diagnosis was later revised to hypermania as part of a psychotic episode.

On September 5, Mrs West called the mental health team at Oxford Health NHS trust and said Mr West had been chanting to himself since 4am.

His medication was increased, and the psychotic symptoms seemed to subside, but a new problem took their place: after an appointment with his GP about stomach problems, Mr West became obsessed with the belief he had cancer, even though blood tests showed no signs of it.

One night he called 999 and told paramedics he was unable to sleep because he was so anxious about his stomach problems.

Just before his final meeting with Dr Theodoulou on November 21, Mr West admitted to his wife that he was having suicidal thoughts.

He told the doctor he was 'very frightened about the future' and confessed 'he had given up on God, and therefore God had given up on him'.

In response, the doctor increased his medication.

The couple went home and wrapped Christmas presents together, but the following day, November 22, Mrs West called police and said she had not seen her husband since the evening before.

Mr West's clothes were discovered hours later two miles from his home by Crawley Mill Industrial Estate just outside Witney, neatly folded by the river Windrush.

After several police appeals for his whereabouts his body was found two weeks later on Saturday, December 10.

Assistant coroner Nicholas Graham said Mr West had drowned and concluded that he took his own life.