Aspiring author whose body lay undiscovered for five months died without knowing first book was to be published
An aspiring author who suffered from crippling migraines lay dead in her home for almost five months before her body was found.
Among the post piled up behind Helen Gradwell's front door was a letter from a London publisher accepting her first novel, The Nature's Spirits.
Ms Gradwell, 39, probably took too much of the strong painkiller tramadol to treat her debilitating hemiplegic migraines, an inquest heard.
She was found lying face down on the floor of her living room after a concerned neighbour raised the alarm.
Police forced their way into her terraced house in Heaton, Bolton, Greater Manchester, on April 26 where they discovered her badly decomposed body.
The inquest heard that Christmas decorations were still up at her home and analysis of her phone revealed she had last used it to send a text message to a friend cancelling a meeting on December 30 last year.
Assistant coroner Timothy Brennand was told by police investigating officer Det Insp Jonathan Kelly that her two pet dogs had also died in the same room.
In a statement, Miss Gradwell's father Jack described her as a "bright and pretty" child who loved animals, even taking her pet spaniel for rides in her bicycle basket.
The unmarried former Bolton School sixth form pupil went on to gain a degree in psychology and sociology and teaching qualifications.
But her full-time teaching career was cut short by debilitating hemiplegic migraines, which resulted in severe pain and paralysis down one side of her body.
Instead, she took up tutoring and - unknown to her family until after her death - began writing books. She attempted to control her pain with medication prescribed by doctors, including the strong painkiller tramadol.
Pathologist Jonathan Pearson told the inquest that the condition of Miss Gradwell's body made finding a cause of death difficult, but there were no signs that she had been assaulted by another person.
However, he added that toxicology tests revealed high levels of tramadol in her body.
"It is the only evidence we have of something abnormal that could explain the sudden death," said Mr Pearson. "I accept entirely it is not conclusive, but on the balance of probabilities it is the best evidence we have to explain the death."
Miss Gradwell had been dressed in her pyjamas at the time of her death and it is thought she had been sleeping on the sofa as there was a quilt and pillow.
Empty packets of tramadol capsules were found and it was suggested that Miss Gradwell may have taken too much of the drug in a bid to relieve her migraine pain.
The court heard that her body might have been found sooner if a police community support officer, who found Miss Gradwell's Fiat Punto unlocked in Beverley Road on January 13, had run a police check to find its owner.
However, Mr Brennand stressed that, even if he had, it would not have prevented Miss Gradwell's death.
Recording an open conclusion, Mr Brennand said there was no evidence she had intended to deliberately take her own life - she had recently purchased new clothing, had left no note and it could not be ruled out that she may have suffered a fall.
However, it was her love of her animals that persuaded him she did not kill herself. "To my mind, she would do nothing that would put the lives of her dogs in peril," he said.
Mr Brennand referred to Miss Gradwell's death as tragic, particularly as her future held so much promise with her potential book deal.
"After many, many months the real character of Helen is something that seemed to be reasserting itself," he said.
Speaking after the inquest Miss Gradwell's stepmother, Bronwen Gradwell said she agreed the animal lover would not have done anything to harm her pets, two-year-old German shepherd Wesley, five-year-old springer spaniel Holly and Wilfred the cat.
"She absolutely adored them. This is why we know she did not do this on purpose," said Mrs Gradwell.
Miss Gradwell sent a synopsis and the first three chapters of her book to the publisher and her family believe she completed the 37,000-word book, but they have been unable to find it.
"We know it must be out there somewhere. If we found it, we would love to publish it and donate the proceeds to animal charities," said Mrs Gradwell.
"At her funeral donations were for the Destitute Animal Shelter. Animals meant everything to her - they were her world."