A RECLUSIVE woman who had not seen her family in 23 years drowned in the sea off the coast of west Dorset, an inquest heard.

Lesley Stevens, 63, worked as a healthcare assistant and had signed herself off sick from work following an argument with her boss before she died in April this year.

Her body was found in the water at Lyme Regis by a fisherman on April 19 this year.

But assistant coroner for Dorset, Richard Middleton, said he could not be sure whether Ms Stevens intended to kill herself or if her death was a tragic accident.

An inquest in Bournemouth heard Ms Stevens had rented a room from Victoria Gibson in Axminster, in Devon, for 18 years but largely kept to herself and neither her landlady nor her work colleagues knew much about her.

Ms Gibson described her as 'quiet and kind' but private and said Lesley did not have any friends she knew of.

There had been an incident at her job at Axminster Hospital in March this year.

She was asked to take two blood tests for a patient - one sitting and one standing - but had only done one and then lied on the report that she had done both.

She was told she would have to work with another team member assessing her but Ms Stevens was not happy about this. After an argument with her manager she self-reported as sick and went home on April 13.

A colleague said she spoke to her on April 15 and she seemed fine. There was no concerns she would harm herself.

On the morning of April 19 she left Ms Gibson's at about 7am. Her body was discovered about 10am. She had not left a suicide note and there was no sign of any injuries on her body.

Detective Sergeant Jon Rich, of Devon and Cornwall Police, told the inquest - due to her reclusive nature - it was difficult to assess whether she took her own life or not.

He said: "Unfortunately due to how reclusive she was, it will never be known whether she has taken her own life or if it was a tragic accident."

But he did say it was a dry, bright day and the sea was calm on the day she died.

She left her family home in Kent in 1998 and cut off contact with her family after an argument. They had tried unsuccessfully to locate her.

After her death, police put out a next of kin appeal and her family came forward, they said it was the first time they had seen what Lesley looked like since 1998.

Mr Middleton recorded an open verdict.