Mourning teenager took her own life

Emma Winstanley
Emma Winstanley

A TRAGIC teenager was so grief-stricken at her grandfather’s suicide that she hanged herself just weeks later.

Student Emma Winstanley, 19, was found dead by her mother, Julie-Anne O’Keefe, last September – just six weeks after her beloved grandfather, Bernard O’Keefe, took his own life in carbon-copy circumstances.

An inquest held at St Helens Town Hall last Friday (September 9) heard how, two days after Mr O’Keefe died, Miss Winstanley tried to commit suicide at Garswood Railway Station – only to be thwarted by her fiance, Phil Riley.

But, consumed by grief, the teenager, who had suffered from depression and was awaiting an assessment for bipolar disorder, was found hanged at her mother’s home on Edgeworth Street, Sutton, shortly after 12.30am on September 13.

She had left a short note which not only referred to her grandfather, but signalled her intention to take her own life.

Speaking after the hearing, Phil Riley and Julie-Anne O’Keefe said: “Emma idolised her grandfather, but this shouldn’t have happened. Both of them should still be here today.”

Mr O’Keefe, 73, often known as “Brian”, was found hanged at his home on Station Road, Garswood, on July 28 last year.

His body was discovered by police officers after he called a police control room to signal his intentions shortly after 12.15pm.

Despite the officers’ best efforts to save Mr O’Keefe, paramedics could do nothing to save the pensioner.

But his daughter, Maria Bell, subsequently told police that her father had been blackmailed by one of his friends, Angela Litherland.

Mrs Bell, of Billinge, said she had found an envelope in her father’s house with the name “Angela L” on the front and a paying in slip for £250 inside.

She also told how she had received a telephone call on July 26 from Ms Litherland’s partner, Stuart, saying that Mr O’Keefe was acting out of character.

Concerned, she rushed over to her father’s home. Once there, she spotted Ms Litherland in a van outside, and Mr O’Keefe showed his daughter a letter, which, Mrs Bell told police, was a request for £250 to help pay off Ms Litherland’s loan.

Mr O’Keefe then threatened to commit suicide after he admitted that he had been paying Ms Litherland that amount for the previous three to four months - as well as topping up her mobile phone.

After calming him down, Mrs Bell returned to check on her father the following day before speaking to him on the phone for the final time on the morning of July 28.

She said he was very upset and told her “I can’t do this anymore – it’s a bad old day” before telling her he loved her and hanging up.

Mrs Bell subsequently attempted to retract her statement but police left the blackmail allegation in their report to coroners.

However, detectives determined that there was insufficient evidence to launch a formal probe into the blackmailing claims.

Ms Litherland, who did not attend the inquest after being given a doctor’s note, told police that Mr O’Keefe had been helping her to pay off a loan, but claimed the payments were down to his generosity – not blackmail.

She also claimed that her relationship with Mr O’Keefe had been “purely platonic”.

Coroner Christopher Sumner recorded that both Bernard O’Keefe and Emma Winstanley committed suicide.