Death of Norfolk councillor Derek Blake remains a mystery

Derek Blake, pictured while Norfolk County Councillor for Loddon division.

Derek Blake, pictured while Norfolk County Councillor for Loddon division. - Credit: Archant

The death of a much-loved Norfolk county councillor Derek Blake remains shrouded in mystery as an inquest returned an open conclusion today.

Derek Blake was a fan of Korean food and culture. Photo: Nick Butcher

Derek Blake was a fan of Korean food and culture. Photo: Nick Butcher - Credit: Archant © 2010

Derek Blake died on June 23 last year at what his sons said had been the happiest time of his life. But the inquest heard he was facing allegations of shop lifting.

The 76-year-old, who had served on South Norfolk Council for more than a decade, was last year elected to the county council for the first time, as member for Loddon division, and had also been chairman of Bergh Apton Parish Council since 2011, was found lifeless in his driveway in Loddon Road, Bergh Apton.

A post-mortem examination recorded the cause of death as a shotgun injury to the head.

His sons Allyn and Daren, who were at Tuesday's inquest in Norwich, believe he may have slipped while pursuing game outside his rural home, in a tragic accident.

The home of district councillor Derek Blake in Bergh Apton.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The home of district councillor Derek Blake in Bergh Apton.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

But assistant coroner Nicholas Holroyd heard written evidence from police that Mr Blake had been interviewed by officers in connection with an alleged shop theft three days before his death, and may have been worried about the consequences.

A statement from one officer, identified only as PC Allen, said that Mr Blake was detained by a loss prevention officer at Jarrolds department store in London Street, Norwich.

There was an allegation that Mr Blake had concealed six small value items and left the store without making any attempt to pay.

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PC Allen said, in a written statement, that Mr Blake may have feared that a possible criminal record would have affected his ability to visit his sons in South Korea due to stringent immigration checks.

The case was referred for summons and had not been heard in court before Mr Blake's death.

An Anglian Water worker found the body shortly after 6.30am on June 23 and called police.

Officers who attended found items laid out, including passwords for accounts, in a manner that led them to believe Mr Blake was putting his affairs in order.

There was no suicide note and Mr Blake's sons were adamant that their father had not intended to take his own life.

They said passwords were left out as he struggled to use modern technology, a petty theft allegation would not have affected his ability to visit South Korea and he was 'at the happiest point in his life'.

Allyn said his understanding of the theft allegation is that his father, who was not good with technology, was on a rare mobile phone call and may have left the shop while distracted.

He added that a mark in the mud, on a steep bank beside his father's drive, suggested that Mr Blake may have slipped while shooting game.

Mud was also found on the butt of the shotgun.

His sons said that it was not unusual for him to shoot rabbits near the house, and that the nearest neighbouring property was more than a mile away.

The shotgun had belonged to Mr Blake's father and was around 60 years old.

Mr Holyroyd recorded an open conclusion, and said there was not sufficient evidence to be certain what happened.

He said that in his view, the police interview would have caused Mr Blake 'terrible worry about what would happen in due course if these proceedings were brought on'.

'To someone just elected to the county council, it would have been extremely distressing and embarrassing to him,' he said.

But he added: 'On the other hand, I hear that Mr Blake was a meticulous man and had he intended to take his life he would have left a note.

'I take that as being highly relevant.'

He said that he also could not be sure whether Mr Blake, an experienced marksman, fell while pursuing game with his gun.

The day before his death, Mr Blake had signed off the annual accounts for Bergh Apton council and appeared 'buoyant' when speaking to a friend who cut his lawn.