A popular florist was stabbed to death months after his girlfriend blamed him for her taking her own life, an inquest has been told.
Alicia Callaghan, 43, was found hanging by her partner Tony Eastlake, 55, whose death is now subject to a murder inquiry after he was attacked yards from his flower stall in north London.
Poplar Coroners’ Court was told that, after Ms Callaghan’s death on April 1, 2021, the girlfriend of her son found a note in her belongings, which read: ‘I’m doing this because of Tony Eastlake.’
Tony Eastlake was stabbed to death just yards from his stall in north London over the May Bank Holiday weekend
Mr Eastlake was stabbed to death just yards from his stall in north London on Saturday, May 29, two months after Ms Callaghan’s death.
The 55-year-old, whose family described him as a ‘very special man’ and ‘loved by everybody’, was attacked on Essex Road, Islington, at around 5.30pm and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr Eastlake was known as the ‘flower man of Islington’ and had worked at the same stall on Essex Road since he was 14.
Hundreds of people had gathered to pay their respects at a vigil at his flower stand, Florence & Fleur, on May 31, where his daughter Paige Eastlake called the flower seller ‘my twin’ and ‘my best friend’.
A statement given by Mr Eastlake, which he made in the wake of Ms Callaghan’s death, was read out at her inquest.
The flower seller said the couple had argued on the evening of March 31, 2021, because she had received abusive texts from his ex-wife.
Mr Eastlake, who died on May 29 after being stabbed in the lower back, previously said Ms Callaghan told him she was going to bed just before midnight and went upstairs but when he went up to join her he found her hanging.
People at a vigil for Tony Eastlake at his stall at Essex Road Station in London
Referring to Ms Callaghan as his ‘girlfriend’, Mr Eastlake said the messages from his ex partner ‘were abusive towards Alicia and there had been messages texted back as well’.
He added: ‘Alicia’s mood appeared to worsen over the next couple of hours. She had been consuming alcohol but nothing out of the ordinary.
‘At approximately 11.45pm she went to the top floor of the premises, she said her goodnights and went upstairs.
‘Approximately 15 minutes later I went upstairs to talk to her, and as I walked out of the living room, I saw her hanging from the bannister.’
He said he took her down from the stairs, placed her on the living room floor and he called for an ambulance and claimed to give CPR, although a police officer later gave a statement saying he had not seen Mr Eastlake administer CPR.
Mr Eastlake’s statement added: ‘Alicia was still struggling with her father’s passing and her mother having dementia.
‘I had been in a relationship with her since October 2020. The relationship, in general, was all in order but there had been some outside influences affecting her.’
Tony Eastlake’s daughter Paige Eastlake called her father ‘my twin’ and ‘my best friend’ at a vigil at his Florence & Fleur flower stall at Essex Road Station two days after his death
Police Constable Michael Morrison, who attended the scene at around 12.20am on April 1, 2021, said he was met at the door to the property by Mr Eastlake who then led him up two flights of stairs ‘where a woman was lying on her back in the doorway’.
He told the court: ‘Mr Eastlake had not started CPR. He sat down in the living room. He was visibly upset and crying.
‘Mr Eastlake said he had last seen her 15 to 20 minutes prior to the call to London Ambulance Service.
‘I left the room to check the rest of the property.
‘While I was upstairs, I heard Mr Eastlake shout, ‘No! No!’ I believe this was at the time Ms Callaghan’s death was verified.’
Officers later declared the scene non-suspicious at 2.34am, the inquest heard.
Klaudia Le Xuan, the girlfriend of the only son of Ms Callaghan, said in a statement she had known 43-year-old Ms Callaghan for ‘many years’ and that she went to her house ‘with others’ to start packing the house up following her death.
She said she chose to go through the paperwork as she knew Ms Callaghan ‘kept all her paperwork’, and added: ‘It was under the sofa seat that I found a note which read, “I’m ending it because of Tony Eastlake”.
Giving live evidence in person at Poplar Coroner’s Court, she said: ‘It looks very rushed to me but there are parts of her handwriting that very much look like it to me.
‘Of course I was going through all the paperwork so it all looked similar. It was where all her paperwork was and she only disclosed that information to a few people.’
Ms Callaghan’s cousin Maria Czerska disputed it was her handwriting, the inquest heard.
However, Senior Coroner Mary Hassell said: ‘It seems likely to me that Ms Callaghan did write the note not just because of the handwriting which I appreciate is in dispute but because of the place of where it was found.
‘I can’t tell, even if she did write the note, when she wrote the note.
‘I think it is unlikely she would have written it that evening and put it in that place and then went on to do what she did.
‘I don’t think the note is relevant to what happened that evening in particular. I think if she wrote it, I don’t think she wrote it then.’
Tributes at a vigil for Tony Eastlake at his stall at Essex Road Station in London organised by the Islington Community Group
A toxicologist analysed Ms Callaghan’s blood, urine and stomach contents and detected alcohol levels at 217mg per decilitre which would have caused a high level of drunkenness and the stomach tested positive for cocaine consistent with recreational use, the court heard.
The urine also showed cannabis use at the time of her death.
A post-mortem examination said there were no suspicious marks of a third party and her injuries were consistent with the self-inflicted act of hanging.
Her GP and a clinical psychologist also gave a statement to the court to say Ms Callaghan had a chronic risk of self-harm, a history of overdose, had been in a previous abusive relationship and was suffering from the stresses of her mum’s health deteriorating.
Dr Neelesh Bowry said: ‘It was felt Ms Callaghan suffered from emotionally unstable disorder, suffered complaints from her neighbours, was stressed about her mum’s illness and there was an ongoing risk of self-harm.’
Ms Le Xuan spoke about her frustration that it was left to Mr Eastlake to speak to her boyfriend about the death.
She said: ‘I just find it very bizarre with all the ambulance crews and the police officers at the scene, he had not been contacted by anyone.
‘No professional help was offered. No one had said anything to him. It’s a bit bizarre that someone’s mum died and you don’t hear anything from the police.’
The Coroner said while she cannot speak for the police, she said: ‘I would imagine it is because her then-partner was on the scene and knew about the death.’
In her determination, she gave a medical cause of death as suspension by ligature but chose not to make a ruling of suicide as the ‘intentions in this are unclear’.
Ms Hassell said: ‘Given all of the circumstances I am satisfied she hanged herself.
‘To make a determination of suicide, the second element is that I must find on the balance of probabilities that she intended to end her life.
‘Generally speaking hanging oneself is a very deliberate act. Generally speaking, most people do intend to end their own life.
‘I do have some doubt here.
‘It is entirely possible that in the middle of a very heated argument Ms Callaghan went upstairs and hanged herself with the intention of being found by Mr Eastlake. This may have been part of the argument.
‘I do have sufficient doubt that prevents me from saying that she did intend to end her life.
‘I just don’t know what her intention was.
‘She might easily have expected him to hear something and cut her down.”
‘I make a determination that Alicia Callaghan hanged herself at home late on the evening of 31 March 2021, early in the morning 1 April 2021. Her intentions in this are unclear.
‘I just want to say how sorry I am to you all for your loss.’