Woman with ME found dead in her home after fire

November 18, 2009

From the South Wales Argus, 12 August 2009 (Story by Chris Wood)

A GWENT woman was found dead in her home by a friend, two days after a fire in the house. The body of Monmouthshire massage therapist Wendy Cleal, 46, was found after police were called at 1.20pm on Tuesday when worried friends raised the alarm.

It then emerged that a fire had broken out at the Catbrook house on Sunday night, burning itself out and the tragic death remaining undiscovered until Tuesday.

South Wales Fire and Rescue investigator Matt Jones said the most likely cause of Miss Cleal's death was smoke inhalation after a small fire which extinguished itself.

It is understood that investigations centre around a portable heater found at the house.

Miss Cleal’s sister Janice Love said yesterday her family are “raw and completely in shock”.

She added: “It’s really hard, we’re devastated and Wendy will be badly missed.”

Close friend Jeff Harris, 47, of Monmouth, last spoke to Miss Cleal at 9pm on Sunday, and became worried after failing to contact Miss Cleal all day Monday.

The pair would speak several times a day and he contacted another friend, Andy Sherwill of Monmouth.

Mr Sherwill decided to visit Miss Cleal’s house, speaking to her parents – George and Ethel – who live next door, but they hadn’t seen her either.

Mr Sherwill said: “It was so unusual for Wendy not to be in touch either on the computer or phone, so I put a ladder against her wall and peered through the window.

I realised that things weren’t right.”

Mr Sherwill knew Miss Cleal for 10 years from when she worked at the natural health centre at Bridges Community Centre, Monmouth. He said: “She was always so happy-go-lucky.”

Mr Harris said Miss Cleal, who had been working as a massage therapist from home, was “exceptionally spontaneous”.

He said: “She was always phoning, asking if we were going for lunch or off for the day. One of my happiest times was when we ended up in Weston Super Mare playing crazy golf.”

Mr Harris had known her 18 months after he was a client of hers. He said Miss Cleal, who grew up in Catbrook, enjoyed flower arranging, walks, but mainly helping others.

“She really wanted to work as a massage therapist with cancer victims. Wendy always tried to do good for others and put them before herself,” he said.

Fire investigator Mr Jones said Gwent Police were called by worried family members, forcing entry to the property.

He added: “We urge people at this time of year to be cautious when using portable heaters and to install smoke alarms.”

A spokesman for the Gwent coroner said a post mortem examination will take place today.

A Gwent Police spokesman said the death is not being treated as suspicious.

The Argus reported in 2004 how Miss Cleal worked as a client manager for a Monmouth firm before being struck down with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) in 1999. She was forced to take six months off work, but after receiving massages to help her deal with the condition, she decided she wanted to help others in the same way.

She quit her job and signed up for a massage course at the Royal Forest of Dean College, before working in the profession until her death.


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