A DOTING dad lay dead for five months before being found after falling asleep in a field during freezing January weather.
The family of Darren Waller desperately tried to find the dad-of-three and police launched a national appeal after he went missing on January 9.
But the 36-year-old was only found by chance in undergrowth on Hartlepool’s Central Estate when a dog walker changed his route due to a bomb blast at the former Steetley site.
The family’s worst fears were realised when dental records proved it was Darren’s body that was discovered on May 18.
His distraught ex-wife and “best friend” Lisa Gleaves has waited nine months to find out the full facts about what happened to the father of their children, Kayleigh, 16, Ellie, eight, and five-year-old Leah.
Yesterday, an inquest into his death at Hartlepool Coroner’s Court found there was no third party involved and Darren had died in what has been described as a “tragic accident”.
Lisa said: “At least he didn’t suffer.”
A post-mortem examination found the recovering heroin addict had recently taken a large amount of prescribed methadone coupled with diazepam and the court heard it was thought he had fallen back into old ways.
A tearful Lisa told the Mail outside the court: “It’s a comfort to know that all that time ago he went to sleep and wasn’t in any pain, but we are still trying to come to terms with it all.
“The hardest thing now is that I have to bring my kids up on my own without having their dad around. I will do my best for them, but he was a great dad.
“We all miss him so much. He was still my best friend.”
Lisa, 36, of Owton Manor, Hartlepool, and her girls regularly featured in the Mail to appeal for help and travelled to London to appear on BBC’s Missing 2011 programme in a bid to get Darren back.
Police also scoured caravan parks, empty houses and industrial wasteland during the hunt for the trained mechanic, who lived in a flat in Alma Street, Hartlepool.
He was eventually found by Andrew Williamson on grassland behind Ainderby Walk after the dog walker changed his route because police cordoned off Old Cemetery Road due to David Bagley, 58, killing himself in his car with a home-made explosive on the industrial site.
Hartlepool Coroner Malcolm Donnelly recorded a verdict of accidental death after deciding that a combination of the drugs and exposure to icy weather were to blame.
He said: “For reasons we will never really know, he decided to take on board a significant quantity of the substances described. He found a corner he could be comfortable in and fell asleep and didn’t wake up.
“I don’t think he intended to harm himself, I think it was a tragic accident.”
Mr Donnelly also praised the police.
He added: “I must pay tribute to the very detailed and professional way that the situation was investigated.
“It should give everyone confidence that no stone was left unturned.”