MYSTERY surrounds the death of a loner who was found lying in heavy snow near a main railway line.
Jobless Michael Swift was discovered off tracks near Seaton Carew station and it is unclear how long his body had been there.
He died of hypothermia, but it is not known why he was in that area.
An inquest heard how the 36-year-old, who was schizophrenic, was a “solitary individual who kept himself to himself”.
He had been known to go for walks in that area but the circumstances of how the former factory worker got there remain unknown.
The inquest, at Hartlepool Coroner’s Court, heard Mr Swift, of Ensign Court, was “inappropriately dressed” for the “strange and unseasonal weather” around the time he was found, on December 14 last year.
He was also “significantly underweight”, which meant he was more susceptible to hypothermia.
British Transport Police (BTP) investigated the death but were unable to determine how or why he was in the area, near the main Middlesbrough to Sunderland line.
Hartlepool coroner Malcolm Donnelly said: “It was very cold, there had been thick snow. He didn’t have what I would have thought was a lot of clothing on.
“The preliminary cause of death in this case was hypothermia. Michael was in the main a solitary person. It’s known he enjoyed walking in these areas.
“It’s possible he was walking in the area and was overcome by the cold and died.
“The last confirmed sighting was December 8 and he may have been there for some time and that really is as good an explanation as anything we can speculate about this.”
Mr Donnelly added that hypothermia victims are known to behave in “bizarre ways” such as thinking they are warm when they are cold and “thinking I will just go to sleep”.
He added: “I think it’s important from a family’s perspective, he wasn’t in any sort of distress. The likelihood is he thought ‘I will just lie down here and have a rest’ and didn’t wake up.”
Mr Swift’s father, Keith, said: “He is resting in peace.”
His brother, John, said: “I think he was out walking and yes he didn’t have much on.
“He got so used to walking there.He used to go to the Lake District and wore stuff. Unfortunately, this was careless really, people get used to certain areas just walking.”
Mr Donnelly added: “I don’t think he intended to harm himself in any way.
“I think it’s just a sad accident.
“I think we know as much as we are ever going to find out but I think this was just an accident.”
Michael had been receiving help from a mental health intervention team, having been diagnosed as a schizophrenic in April 2005 and he was also a cannabis user, the inquest heard.
Mr Donnelly said the drug would have had no bearing on his death.