A gardener drowned in his millionaire friend’s swimming pool after his wife accidentally “pocket-dialled” his mobile phone and he heard her chatting and flirting with another man in Wetherspoons, an inquest has heard.
Gareth Rees had been house-sitting for a wealthy friend when he overheard the devastating four-minute call and was found by wife Claire, after she realised her blunder and dashed to the luxury house in Surrey.
The wife told the coroner that what 49-year-old Gareth heard “would not have been nice” as she flirted with new boyfriend Glen Ryan saying sexually-suggestive things during a lunch-date.
The coroner recorded an open verdict on the drowning after saying she could not be sure the gardener had intended to drown himself in the outdoor pool, although she acknowledged he could not swim and had a life-long phobia of water.
The inquest was told that Claire Rees rushed to the £1.3 million home in upmarket Churt, where her estranged husband Gareth was house-sitting for friends who were on holiday in France, after discovering he had overheard the conversation with her new flame, Glen.
“It would not have been nice to hear. I declared that he hit me on more than one occasion, that I work a 70-hour week and was exhausted while Gareth was finishing work at 2.30pm – and I was flirting.
“Glen had been in a tempestuous relationship with his ex-partner and we were agreeing that you cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.
“I am not a technology person but I think instead of pressing the send button while texting Gareth I accidentally pressed the dial button, I do not know exactly what he was able to hear,” Claire told the inquest in Surrey.
After realising the blunder, panicked Claire left her Wetherspoons lunch-date and raced to the £1.3m home where she made the grim discovery outside in the swimming pool.
“I feel really bad about it now but my friends and I had joked earlier because Gareth had texted me to say he was going for a dip in the pool. He cannot swim, he hated water, he had a phobia – we thought he was joking.
“If the pocket dial had anything to do with his death, that is something I have to live with. I have had to make my peace with it,” Claire added.
After 11 years of turbulent marriage, the wife ended the relationship with gardener Gareth and he confided in family that it was as if “a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.”
However, just a few weeks after the separation, Gareth suspected his wife was romantically involved with somebody else which left him “angry and upset.”
In the early hours of the morning of his death, he had Googled the name “Glen Ryan” searching for the new lover on Facebook, detective inspector Jo Smith confirmed to the assistant Surrey coroner.
She said: “I found messages from Gareth challenging Claire about moving on so early into a new relationship and that was not what he was going to do. Gareth had told mutual friends that he could not live without Claire.
“Even though Claire had told Gareth she was not going to meet Glen, I think Gareth suspected that she was as he had Google-searched ‘Glen Ryan Facebook’ and ‘Glen Ryan Southampton’ at 5.47am on August 3 2019 – the day of his death,” the detective said.
The inquest heard how Gareth Rees had been staying in his marital home in Alma Lane, Farnham, Surrey, the week before his death.
After searching the property, she discovered her husband drowned in the pool and pulled him out of the water before frantically dialling 999 just after 3pm.
Paramedics arrived within 11 minutes but despite constant resuscitation, Gareth was declared deceased beside the pool at 3.45pm.
Pathologist Dr Robert Chapman confirmed that Gareth had died from drowning and had drunk over the drink drive limit of alcohol at the time of his death.
Assistant coroner Dr Karen Henderson said: “It was clear Gareth was upset that she was moving on, he had overheard remarks about him that were not complimentary and had the realisation that his marriage was not going to be recoverable.”
Sat in the tense inquest court was estranged wife Claire with her new lover, bearded Glen Ryan, Gareth’s parents Melvin and Noreen alongside brother and sister Tom Rees and Vanessa Harvey.
Assistant coroner Dr Henderson, in delivering her conclusion, said: “Gareth Rees was a much-loved son, brother and indeed step-father and husband. He was at the time of his death fit and well. He had been a printer by trade and later became a gardener as he really enjoyed being outdoors and his dogs.
“It is not the purpose of this court to rake through the ins and outs of a relationship or attribute any responsibility, it is outside the scope. I accept that there had been difficulties in the relationship between Gareth and his wife.
“This had culminated in the event in July after which the process of separation had begun. I am satisfied that perhaps Gareth had mixed feelings about it. Perhaps not wanting to move on but in others ways he understood the process of moving on.
“All of the evidence from his family was that on some level he knew his marriage was not going to work out but he was clearly some stages behind Claire in that regard.
“On August 3 2019 he attended an antiques fair in Farnham. His wife was concerned in relation to the contents of a dropped phone call which did not paint a flattering picture of their marriage or of Gareth who had his own suspicions in regard to a potential new relationship.
“Given her concern she went to check on him, there had been a series of text messages that he might have a dip in the pool despite having a phobic fear of water since childhood. There was a further text message at 2.19pm saying she will be popping around and arrived 30 minutes later to sadly find Gareth having drowned in the swimming pool wearing shorts.
“It was clear he was upset that she was moving on, he had overheard remarks about him that were not complimentary and had the realisation that his marriage was not going to be recoverable.
“However, I have no evidence that there was an intention to end his life, he had no known history of mental health problems and no note was left.”
The assistant coroner ended the inquest with an open conclusion noting the “exact circumstances of his death remain unknown and are speculative”.
Brother Tom Rees said after the ruling: “The best way to describe Gareth was when I asked him if he wanted to buy a lottery ticket for the £55 million rollover, he said he did not need it, he had his gardening and his dogs, he was very happy.”