Inquest into little girl’s death - mother fell from Birling Gap cliffs

West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield recorded an open verdict yesterday (May 4) at the inquest into the death of Keira Madden.

Keira was found dead in a bedroom of the detached family home on Roundle Avenue, Felpham, at 2.30pm last July 3.

Her mother Cathy Madden, in her early 40s, was discovered the same afternoon at the bottom of Birling Gap cliffs near Eastbourne. Chaplains had failed to persuade her from taking her life.

Mrs Schofield said: “This has been one of the most difficult cases I have had to deal with. There is so much suspicion surrounding Keira’s death. “To return a verdict of unlawfully killing I must be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt, and I am not. However as there are so many unanswered questions I cannot return a verdict of natural death either. Therefore I must return an open verdict.

“Sadly for the family, today has not provided the answers needed. There will be considerable publicity following this case and I do hope people with information will come forward.”

A note allegedly written by Mrs Madden was found near Keira’s body which said her daughter had drowned. It claimed the pair were at the beach and Keira slipped and drowned while she was in the water. The note said Keira was on her mother’s back while they swam in the sea when Mrs Madden became aware her daughter had become limp. 

Dr Olaf Biedrzycki, the consultant pathologist who performed Keira’s post-mortem examination, told the inquest he could not be absolutely certain whether Keira had drowned accidentally.

Dr Biedrzycki told the court no evidence of deep bruising to Keira’s back or arms had been found which may suggest a child was forcibly held down. Neither was there any evidence of any pressure to the neck, or head injuries.

The results found microscopic algae called marine diatoms, found in the sea, in Keira’s body.

Initial post-mortem tests conducted on Mrs Madden confirmed she died from multiple injuries consistent with a fall.

Keira’s father Steven Madden, who attended the inquest into his daughter’s death, lives and works in Germany.

The couple were going through the process of a divorce at the time of the deaths of Mrs Madden and Keira. Mr Madden returned to the UK every three weeks for his access visits to Keira.

Cathy and Keira had moved to Germany around the time of Keira’s second birthday, but had returned to the UK so Keira could attend nursery. She attended the Blackbirds Playgroup and later Bishop Tufnell CofE Infant School.

Mrs Schofield returned a verdict Mrs Madden took her own life.

She said: “On the third of July 2010, she was seen at Beachy Head by a chaplain. The chaplain had engaged in a conversation with her, and she gave him false identification details.

“Soon she turned and ran to the cliff edge. She suffered multiple injuries as result of the fall.

“She left a suicide note saying that she intended to take her own life.

“Cathy was said to be of a fragile mind and I have no doubt the death of her daughter was enough for her to want to take her own life. She lived her life for her daughter.”