A man who spent more than a decade living in woods took his own life on Christmas Day after being served an eviction notice, an inquest heard.
Alexander MacKenzie lived in caravans, log cabins and shelters in Tredean Wood, near Devauden in Chepstow, for about 12 years until his death on December 25, 2019.
The 64-year-old was passionate about bushcraft and foraging, and made a modest income selling natural products such as firewood, an inquest held at Gwent Coroner’s Court heard on Tuesday.
On the morning of December 25, Gwent Police officers found Mr MacKenzie deceased inside a burnt out vehicle on the land following reports from two friends.
Coroner’s officer Paul Richardson outlined the facts of the case at an inquest held Gwent Coroner’s court on Tuesday.
“On December 25, 2019, emergency services attended Tredean Wood, Devauden, in Chepstow, due to a report of a deceased male in a caravan.
“Upon arrival, the caravan had clearly been set alight and the charred remains of the body could be seen inside.”
The inquest heard evidence in the form of a written statement from Mr MacKenzie’s son, also named Alexander, which was summarised to the court by senior coroner Caroline Saunders.
Alexander MacKenzie told the court his father was born in Scotland and had been living with his parents until about 10 years before his death.
After this, he said his father had developed a “feral lifestyle” and started living in Tredean Wood in Devauden.
“He initially built himself a shack and a log cabin,” Ms Saunders said.
“He also owned several vehicles.”
Alexander MacKenzie said his father was a tenant on the land which was owned by a company, and was interested in bushcraft and foraging.
Although he did not have a “stable income” and was not formally employed, Alexander MacKenzie said his father would make money by selling natural products such as fire wood and wild mushrooms.
He would also visit a local pub regularly, where he was well known by a number of people in the community. Alexander MacKenzie said he believed his father to be “alcohol dependent”, and a heavy smoker, but the only long term health problem he was aware of was a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Ms Saunders also summarised the contents of a statement provided to the court by Gwent Police Constable Georgina Payne.
PC Payne said she was on duty on December 25, 2019, and received a call to attend Tredean Woods at about 8.55am.
There, she said she saw a burnt out van and two men, who were both friends of Mr MacKenzie. A large amount of ash and human remains could be seen inside the vehicle.
PC Payne said the two men told her Mr MacKenzie had been living at the site for about 12 years and the land had recently come under new ownership.
“Alex had been told that he had to leave the land in January 2020,” Ms Saunders said.
“They went on to say that the situation, in relation to the land as far as they were concerned in the information they passed to the constable, was what had led him to, in their opinion, take his own life.”
Ms Saunders said Mr MacKenzie was taken to the Royal Gwent Hospital where a postmortem examination was carried out.
However, the coroner said the condition of the remains meant it was not possible to give a conclusive cause of death, and the pathologist recommended a medical cause of death of “unascertainable” be given in the circumstances.
The court also heard evidence that Mr MacKenzie had shared his intention to take his own life with several friends and acquaintances in the weeks leading up to his death.
Summing up the facts of the case, Ms Saunders said Mr MacKenzie had “adopted a lifestyle where he chose to be close to nature”.
“In January 2020, the lease that he had been granted was due to expire and in about September 2019, he was informed by the landowner that this would not be renewed,” she said.
“I consider this to be a significant contributory factor as to what would unfold. There is evidence from his friends that this upset him.”
Ms Saunders accepted the medical cause of death as “unascertainable”, as given by the pathologist.
A conclusion of suicide was recorded.
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