Published: 14:00, 14 October 2013
A young man's death on an 11,000-volt electricity pole will forever remain a mystery.
Jack Hilding, who had been missing for three months, was heartbroken after breaking up with his girlfriend.
But there was no proof he had committed suicide, an inquest's heard.
Police suspected he had been trying to steal copper cabling at the site in Biddenden, but the coroner said no answer was known.
It is not even known whether Mr Hilding, 23, had been electrocuted because his body was too badly decomposed to confirm cause of death.
Rachel Redman, Central and South East Kent Coroner, recorded an open verdict at the inquest.
She said: “We don’t know whether it was a deliberate intention to take his life or whether it was metal stealing that had gone badly wrong.”
She added: “The evidence does not clarify his movements between when he was last seen and found.”
Mr Hilding, of Offenden Drive, Staplehurst, was found dead in a field near the electricity transfer substation at Woolpack Corner, Benenden Road, Biddenden, on January 16 this year.
He had vanished the previous October 1 and a massive search by police and volunteers failed to locate him.
The inquest heard gypsy Mr Hilding had been distressed by the break-up of his relationship with his partner Jemma Burton, the mother of his two-year old son.
This happened a couple of months before his disappearance and he then regularly stayed with his grandfather, Jack Hilding Sr, at his home at Woolpack Corner, just 300 metres from where the body was eventually found.
By September 12 he had gone to his GP surgery and been prescribed anti-depressants.
Police said they had learned that after the break-up he had also been drinking heavily and been taking “recreational” drugs, although the type was not specified at the hearing.
Mr Hilding Sr was the last person to see his grandson before the disappearance.
He told the inquest, at Dover Magistrates Court: “He told me: ‘If any other man brings up my child I would not like to live. I would do myself in.’
“I believe he did himself in.”
But PC Kim White, a specialist gypsy traveller liaison officer, had briefed investigating colleagues that people in that community may take their own life in prison but it was extremely unusual to do it on the outside.
Mr Hilding had disappeared at about 5.30pm Monday, October 1 last year.
Mr Hilding Sr said he had prepared him a meal that evening and told the inquest: “He said I’ll have it in a minute and he went outside. I thought he was going to his own caravan. I didn’t realise he then disappeared off the face of the earth. “
Mr Hilding Sr said he searched the grounds of his property and three days later, as family concerns increased, Mr Hilding’s father, a third Jack Hilding, reported him missing to police.
“We don’t know whether it was a deliberate intention to take his life or whether it was metal stealing that had gone badly wrong” - coroner Rachel Redman
Family members also handed out leaflets to local people in their desperate attempts to find him.
The body was found three months later by Terry Ellis, an overhead linesman for substation operators UK Power Networks.
He had been called to the substation after a switch tripped, causing problems in the power supply.
The body was upside down 20 to 25ft up a pole in a field. It was suspended by the crook of the left knee from a metal bracket.
Pathologist Dr Benjamin Swift said the body was so badly decomposed it was not possible to give the cause of death.
Dr Swift found charring on the right foot, suggesting an electricity burn, but could not say whether Mr Hilding had been electrocuted as the contact could have come after death.
He said the post mortem had been hindered by the state of the body so it was impossible to test whether Mr Hilding had recently taken alcohol or any kind of drug.
Mr Swift could not exclude the possibility a natural underlying cause, such as an undiagnosed heart condition.
William Blackburn, area manager for UK Power Networks, said the voltage on the site was 11,000 but people could survive a shock from even this.
He said; “It is not a foregone conclusion that death will follow even this high voltage.
"It has been known for people to survive. It depends on the current flow through the person, the length of time and the health and well being of the person.”
The inquest heard Mr Hilding had already been in trouble with the police and they now believed that he had climbed up the pole to steal copper cabling.
Mr Ellis said copper wiring had been cut at both ends, which had not been done by UK Power, and this was a regular occurence in incidents of copper theft.
A saw had also been found just a metre away from the pole.
The field where Jack Hilding hung upside down was searched after he disappeared but the body was missed.
Even the CCTV from houses close to the disappearance was not immediately pursued, the inquest heard.
Mr Hildings father, Jack Hilding Jr, told Sgt Ruth Sgt Ruth Colquhoun, a leading officer in the search: “It was CCTV that was key evidence. It should have been sought after. Neighbours say that they were not approached for it.”
But the inquest heard police first wanted to pursue what they saw as more promising lines of inquiry.
It was not thought the CCTV in Biddenden would be of good enough quality to help.
Instead police followed up with CCTV film after reported sightings of him elsewhere in the county such a Canterbury.
Jack Hilding’s father, outside the hearing, produced three letters from neighbours saying they were not approached by police for CCTV after the disappearance.
He said: “I am disgusted with the police. It would have been the intelligent thing to do.”
The letters, written this March and April, were to Mr Hilding Sr from neighbours in Biddenden.
One said: “We have not been approached by any official body in order to review our CCTV although it records over itself after a period of 42 days.”
The body was found after 107 days.
He said his son was heartbroken by the end of his relationship and had sent a Facebook message to his two-year-old saying: “I love you millions, you’re the reason I go on in life.”
Mr Hilding’s father, now aged 43, added: “It was a love story gone wrong and the inquest didn’t answer a lot of questions.
“People can’t condemn him as some sort of metal thief. He wasn’t a bad person.
"Everyone who knew him loved him. He was kind and loving and would help anyone. He had a heart of gold.
“As a loving father at the end of the day I learned that my boy had 11,000 volts run through him.”