THE mother of a woman who was killed by her partner found him "outstretched" on top of her son who was "gasping for breath" - on the evening of her daughter's funeral.

Caroline Devlin was found dead in her bed on Mother's Day in 2006 at her home in Cranworth Road, Worthing.

Her boyfriend at the time, Robert Trigg, was later convicted of manslaughter in 2017, and for the murder of Susan Nicholson, who was smothered by Trigg in April 2011, five years after Caroline's death.

A fresh inquest was opened into Susan's death yesterday after her parents Peter and Elizabeth Skelton won a legal challenge for the coroner to investigate the circumstances, including possible "police failings" - and whether her death could have been prevented.

Both Caroline and Susan's deaths were not initially deemed suspicious by Sussex Police.

Officers did question Trigg on suspicion of accidental manslaughter after Susan died, but he was released without charge and detectives concluded it was an accident. 

The Argus: Left, Robert Trigg, and right, Susan NicholsonLeft, Robert Trigg, and right, Susan Nicholson

Trigg had told police he had fallen asleep and “rolled on top of Susan”, causing her to suffocate.

At the hearing at Crawley Coroner's Court, a statement was given from Caroline's mother Jean Devlin, who said she was "shocked" when she found Trigg "outstretched" on top of her son Bernard on the evening of Caroline's funeral back in 2006.

Her statement read: "I went to bed just before 11pm and left people downstairs drinking in my lounge.

"I went downstairs at 2am and was shocked to see Robert fully outstretched on top of my son Bernard. I could see Bernard was trying to push him off.

"I asked him, 'What are you doing, what is going on?'

"I could see Bernard was gasping for breath."

Ms Devlin did not mention the incident to police at the time, but years later she read about the death of Susan Nicholson in a local paper.

Her statement went on: "There was a picture of Robert Trigg in the paper and I felt sick.

"It was this time that I contacted police about the incident with Bernard.

The Argus: Caroline Devlin, centre, with her mum Jean, left, and sister Anne, rightCaroline Devlin, centre, with her mum Jean, left, and sister Anne, right

"I told them I wanted to talk to them about what I had read in the paper and what had happened to my daughter."

Ms Devlin said she requested a face-to-face appointment with police but was told "they did not have time" and said she was "extremely upset".

The court heard that Caroline Devlin, who was 35 when she died, was found by her children on Mother's Day morning.

A statement read to the court from her son Jordan McKenna, who was just 14 at the time, said: "Robert was sitting at the top of the stairs, fully dressed.

"He said to me, 'There's something wrong with your mum'.

"I saw her laying on her front in bed and her legs were facing where she normally has her pillows - I remember thinking it's a strange position.

"I went straight over to try and wake her up and she was freezing cold to the touch."

Jordan rushed next door to tell a neighbour, who called an ambulance and police.

Richard Howarth, who was the forensic medical examiner called out by police when Caroline died, told the court he has been "puzzled" by her death, but had no concerns about any suspicious circumstances.

He said: "I would have asked police if they had any concerns about the story.

"She was found dead in the morning but there had been some sexual activity.

"I said my thoughts were that she had died of natural causes, and if she had died suddenly after sexual intercourse it was likely to be a cardiac or brain event, or something very rare known as an air embolism.

"The room was undisturbed and there was nothing about the scene that was unusual.

"I was so puzzled I asked if they could provide a post mortem report."

Senior coroner for West Sussex Penelope Schofield told the jury they must consider police action following Caroline Devlin's death, and "whether or not police took reasonable steps, in light of previous violence" before Susan was murdered.

She said: "You will need to look carefully at what police knew at the time, or what they ought to have known."

The hearing continues.