Jurors at the inquest into the death of homeless woman Luisa Mendes almost four years ago have heard how a man she had been staying told a friend he hit her several times on the morning she died.
Miss Mendes, 44, of no fixed address, was found dead in the bathroom at the home of Christopher Taylor in Briar Close, Lillington, on the morning of October 25 2012.
She died of internal bleeding including a large bleed into her abdominal cavity and a ruptured spleen.
Mr Taylor, who is in his 60s, and his friend Nicholas White, who is in his 50s, were later arrested in connection with her death but were released on bail and no charges were brought against them.
Giving evidence at the inquest, which began at Warwickshire Justice Centre in Leamington on Monday, Warwick man Keith Skinner, who stayed at Mr Taylor’s house from late 2012 to early 2013, said he had only met Miss Mendes once when she had asked to borrow some money from him and he had instead offered to buy her a drink.
During the brief time they spent together she told him she had been staying with Mr Taylor whom he had been friends with, along with Mr White, for several years.
Like Mr Taylor and Mr White, Mr Skinner has suffered from problems with alcoholism and the three had stayed in touch by drinking at pubs and at other spots around the town.
Mr Skinner later learned of Miss Mendes’s death and Mr Taylor and Mr White’s subsequent arrests as a result of it.
In a statement he gave to police in January 2013, Mr Skinner told officers of three specific times while he was living at the address in Briar Close that Mr Taylor spoke about the incident.
Mr Skinner said: “I was surprised to hear that Luisa had died and that Mr White and Mr Taylor has spent 36 hours in custody.
“About a month later, some time in November, Mr Taylor said to me that he had beaten her on the morning she died. He said he had hit her several times in the ribs and said it was because she was his girlfriend but she had been ‘on the game’ at the bottom of town.
“On another occasion when I was at his house he said ‘I beat her that morning she died’, she deserved it for going behind my back and selling herself’.
“I don’t agree with men beating up women so I knew I had to do something.”
Mr Skinner also recalled overhearing a conversation between Mr Taylor and Mr White in which the former told the latter ‘I told them you was here even though you wasn’t because I didn’t want to go down on my own.”
Mr Skinner said he had always had a lot of respect for Mr White and Mr Taylor and that he had never seen either be physicaly aggresive towards anyone but that in the later stages of the time he spent living with Mr Taylor, who was is in his 60s and in ill health, he had known him as someone who would ‘take his health problems out on others’ and a ‘bully’ who would pick on other vulnerable people.
He said an incident in which Mr Taylor had attacked another of his friends with a walking stick had prompted him to go to the police regarding Miss Mendez’s death and that he no longer spent time with Mr Taylor or Mr White because he wanted to get away from being around other alcoholics and live a better life.
The inquest also heard evidence from Philip Moore of the Leamington Night Shelter.
As part of the shelter’s outreach work, Mr Moore had been delivering groceries to Mr Taylor’s house and he visited the property on both the day and evening before Miss Mendes died and had discovered her body on the morning of her death.
On the morning of October 24, 2012, Mr Taylor had delivered groceries to Mr Taylor.
At the time he arranged to give Mr Taylor a lift to the night shelter at 8pm that day.
When he returned to the address Miss Mendes was there and she and Mr White were arguing over a £5 taxi fare he had just paid on her behalf.
He knew all three individuals as they were all clients at the night shelter.
Mr Moore said that Mr Taylor, who had decided not to go to the night shelter, appeared very drunk and that Miss Mendes rolled up her sleave to show bruising to her arm which she claimed Mr White had caused some days before.
He added: “Luisa followed me to the front garden and she said ‘Nicky White is a dangerous man’.
“I told her to keep calm and to not harm Mr Taylor or Mr White and to take care of herself.”
Mr Moore visited the property again at 10am the next day to deliver more groceries and Mr Taylor answered the door.
It was after Mr Moore had sat down in the front room that Mr Taylor called out to Miss Mendez several times with no reply.
Mr Moore then looked across to the bathroom of the property and he saw Miss Mendes’s legs where she was lying on the floor.
He asked Mr Taylor to check if she was breathing to which he replied that he thought she was.
Mr Moore said: “At that moment I thought Luisa had just had a night out and had got very drunk and collapsed.
“But I was later told by an ambulance person that she had been dead for two hours before they arrived.”
When he realised Miss Mendes was showing no signs of life, Mr Moore first called his wife Margaret for advice and then called 999 and both a medic and an ambulance arrived shortly after.
At the scene Mr Taylor claimed Miss Mendes had gone out and then he had gone to bed before she arrived back at about 2am and that she must have got up to use the toilet.
Mr Moore described Mr Taylor, whom he continued to help after Miss Mendez’s death until he became ‘self sufficient’ after recovering from a leg injury, as an ‘easy going guy’ whom he felt would be able to ‘make a go of having his own place to stay’.
He said Mr Taylor was a big fan of 1960s music from his younger days as a musician in a band.
Mr Moore added: “I never knew him as a violent individual.”
In regard to Mr White, Mr Moore said he had not got to know him ‘on the same wave length’ and that he was not a sociable as Mr Taylor and nor was he as comfortable in his company.
When asked about the nature of Mr Taylor and Miss Mendes’s relationship, Mr Moore said it ‘could well’ have been intimate and said he could not remember them ever seeming cross with one another or ever having an argument while he was present.
He described Miss Mendes as a ‘friendly lass’, who had done some gardening for Mr Taylor when he first moved in to the house in Briar Close and that even though he knew she was vulnerable he felt that she could take care of herself after she had lived on the streets for a while.
But describing the situation on the night before she died, Mr Moore told the inquest: “I didn’t think the situation was sufficiently volatile for her to receive more injuries.
“In hindsight maybe I should have taken her somewhere else or called the police as maybe I could have saved her life if I had.”
Probation officer Amy Ramswell worked with Miss Mendes from March 2012 up until her death.
She described Miss Mendes as being very vulnerable and said she had been in two long-term relationships in which she had suffered from domestic violence and abuse.
She had also served two prison sentences and was subject to a court order, which had an alcohol treatment requirement and required her to take part in an emotional wellbeing project.
She said that during one of their sessions a few days before her death, Miss Mendes had turned up with a bruise to her left eye and she said she had been ‘hit by the guy she was living with’ but she did not want to do anything about it because he was very frail and would not give his name and did not want to press charges.
Despite Miss Mendes denying she was in a sexual relationship or that she ‘slept around’, Ms Ramswell said that in her professional opinion that due to the male dominated environment in which she was living in and the fact she was not on benefits that it was possible that Miss Mendez may have given sexual favours to fund her drinking habit.
Ms Ramswell said that despite these issues, Miss Mendez seemed like a ‘lovely woman’ who often reminisced about her family and life in Portugal but would often be down because she did not know where her life was going.
Miss Mendes’s brother Vitor, who has come over from Portugal to attend the inquest and is being represented by solicitors who are asking questions on his behalf, gave a statement saying how he and his family miss his sister.
He said she had a “very strong personality and a big heart” and was “like a second mother” to him.
At about 8.15pm on the night before Miss Mendes’s death police received a 999 call from Mr Taylor’s house where one of the men there claimed she would not leave.
Miss Mendes claimed one of the men had hit her.
The call was graded as a priority for officers to attend the address within an hour.
But no officers attended the address until the following morning and they left after nobody answered the door.
Coroner Tom Leeper has said that Warwickshire Police’s response will be looked at during the inquest and that both Mr Taylor and Mr White will be among those who give evidence.
The jury will return a verdict on Miss Mendes’s death at the end of the proceedings, which are due to last for three weeks and are ongoing.