Inquest into death of woman whose body 'lay in flat for two years'

The woman who vanished… and no one cared: Inquest opens today into tragic case of the ‘forgotten’ British medical secretary, 61, who lay dead on the sofa of her London flat for two-and-a-half years

  • Sheila Seleoane’s skeletal remains  discovered in flat in Peckham in February
  • Residents complained of smell coming from 61-year-old’s flat in October 2019
  • Met Police officers broke down door to her flat and found her skeletal remains
  • Now an inquest will take place at Southwark Crown to investigate her death

An inquest is today set to open into the death of a ‘forgotten’ medical secretary who lay dead on her sofa for two-and-a-half years before her body was discovered.

Sheila Seleoane’s skeletal remains were discovered in her one-bedroom flat in Peckham, South London, in February.

It is believed the 61-year-old spinster, whose long-lost family live in South Africa, died more than two-and-a-half months before she was discovered. 

Sheila Seleoane’s (pictured) skeletal remains were discovered in her one-bedroom flat in Peckham, South London, in February 

Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, has demanded a full investigation into why Peabody ignored repeated calls from neighbours who complained of a horrendous smell more than two years ago. Pictured: The Lord’s Court flats where Ms Seleoane’s body was discovered

Neighbours had first complained of a ‘horrific stench’ to housing association Peabody in October 2019.

Protestations continued for more than two years, with one resident claiming to have contacted the housing association at least 50 times, before police finally forced entry in February this year.

Officers made a gruesome discovery when they opened the flat to find Miss Seleoane’s skeletal remains on the living room sofa.

Today a coroner at Southwark Coroner’s Court will begin an inquest into Miss Seleoane’s death. The inquest will seek to establish how, and when, Miss Seleoane died.

It will be followed by publication of an independent report into how her death could have gone unnoticed for such a scandalous length of time.

The Metropolitan Police, whose officers discovered Miss Seleoane’s body, say they are satisfied there was nothing untoward about her death and that she died naturally.

It comes after the Mail published a photograph of Misss Seleoane – after it was given to the paper by her long-lost family in South Africa.

They used it to illustrate the order of service at her funeral in her ancestral homeland, in the Eastern Cape, from where her mother Adelina emigrated in 1954 to work as a doctor’s housekeeper in London.

Despite promises to sensitively refurbish and re-let the flat in which her body was discovered, residents have reported that Peabody has not taken any action since

Neighbours began complaining to the housing association landlord about a ‘foul smell’ in the building in October 2019

Family members there marked her passing with a traditional Methodist ceremony, and burial in the family plot.

Housing association Peabody managed to arrange and pay for Miss Seleoane’s remains to be flown to South Africa.

It was held last month in a packed chapel. Some members of her South African family travelled many miles to be among the 100, or so, mourners led by Miss Seleoane’s sister, Bella Brooms, one of her two surviving siblings.

Back in England, just two mourners attended her UK funeral, on April 19 at Croydon Crematorium, a few miles from where she was found.

They were her brother Victor, a convicted murderer from whom she was estranged, and a representative of Peabody.  

Her family, as well as neighbours who reported concerns about the smell coming from her property, are now demanding answers.

Constituency MP Harriet Harman has asked the coroner to allow neighbours to bear witness to their harrowing experiences at the inquest. 

One neighbour, who repeatedly reported her suspicions that Miss Seleoane had died, said she will give evidence. 

Miss Seleoane is known to have died sometime in the late summer or autumn of 2019. 

Alarmed by the overpowering smell that filled the corridors, residents repeatedly raised concerns with Peabody.

Yet her remains were discovered, propped on the sofa and apparently flanked by deflated party balloons when, finally, police broke into the flat in February this year.

Police say they believe there is nothing suspicious about her death. Neighbours, however, claim to have heard footsteps coming from her flat last year. 

In February, when Miss Seleoane’s balcony windows — which had been closed for more than two years — began to bang open and shut residents raised the alarm.

Police arrived to find her white-painted door locked from the inside, with a months-old notice warning that gas contractors were about to be cut off Sellotaped to it.

This threat was never carried out. But when the police broke in they found her skeletal remains.

No one in the block can recall exactly when they last saw her striding purposefully to the bus stop or returning home with shopping. An ambulance is pictured outside the building

Neighbours say they complained about the smell for more than two years, as well as raising concerns about the number of unopened letters 

Neighbours became increasingly concerned when letters began to pile up in the letterbox

According to a source living in the building, they believe someone, potentially a burglar or rough-sleeper, may have accessed her flat.

‘For at least two months, in September and October, 2021, scaffolding was erected so the outside of the building could be painted, so someone could have climbed up to the fourth floor.’

The insider says another resident claims to have heard someone climbing the scaffolding in the months before the body was discovered.

Concerns of neighbours were addressed in a letter by Pablo Cazar, the trust’s Head of Neighbourhoods — South, on April 6.

‘From our visits and conversations, we know many of you have questions, and we are sharing what we can in this letter,’ he wrote.

‘The police have confirmed that Ms Seleoane died of natural causes, and they are not treating her death as suspicious. 

‘Although there have been reports from residents that people may have entered Ms Seleoane’s flat in the past two years, the police have decided not to open a criminal investigation on this basis.’

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