QUESTIONS over who was the last person to see a Pembroke woman alive, and why traces of a known date-rape drug were found in her blood, have come to light.

Since her death just before Christmas 2016, the family of 25-year-old Michaela Haines have been trying to piece together what happened in the hours before she was found.

At a three-day inquest in Milford Haven last week, police, paramedics, Michaela’s ex-boyfriend, and her friends gave their accounts of her final night.

Concerns were raised that Michaela’s death was immediately treated as suicide, and there was a contamination of evidence, and an inadequate police investigation.

'Date rape' drug

A post-mortem report by pathologist Dr Daniel Houser found no signs of suspicious circumstances.

A toxicology report stated Michaela, who had been out with friends that night, had alcohol at a level of nearly twice the legal drink-drive limit in her blood.

Traces of the ‘date rape’ drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) were also found, but the court heard this can also be produced naturally by the body after death.

The cause of death was given as asphyxia by hanging.

Acting on behalf of Michaela’s family, barrister Peter Donnison told police: “There is no evidence that this is suicide other than the body being found as it was, there was no history of suicide attempts.”

Her family do not believe Michaela would take her own life.

Western Telegraph: Michaela Haines was a 'bubbly' young woman, her family say.Michaela Haines was a 'bubbly' young woman, her family say.

Night out with friends

A “bubbly” young woman who was hoping to become a mental health nurse, Michaela had been out with friends in Tenby after work on the evening of December 22, 2016.

After finishing work at a local chip shop, she spent time with colleagues and friends at the Tenby House Hotel.

Michaela is believed to have been captured on CCTV both inside and outside the pub, yet despite the recording being made available to police, it never materialised.

On more than one occasion that night, Michaela also visited her ex-boyfriend Alexandru Ciuculescu at the home of their friends Lonel and Illeanu Petcu.

She also spoke separately with Mr Petcu about her on-off relationship with Mr Ciuculescu, and concerns about spending Christmas alone.

Mr Petcu told the inquest he had offered that she spend the day with him and his wife.

Work colleague Charlotte Hudson confirmed seeing the pair talking in the street, and Mr Petcu leaving in the direction of his home.

Mystery man

Shortly after, Miss Hudson said Michaela began talking to another man, described as slim, taller than Michaela, in his early 20s, and with a “foreign” accent.

Michaela introduced him as “one of Alex’s friends”, and after chatting to him for about 10 minutes, said she was going to stay at his house.

After checking she had enough money for a taxi home if needed, Miss Hudson hugged her friend and the pair separated.

Miss Hudson arrived back at her house, a short walk from the town centre, at around 1.15am.

She said she had no concerns that Michaela might harm herself that evening.

She said Michaela “not gone into detail” about her relationship break-up, but expressed hope that they might get back together.

Mr Ciuculescu told the inquest he felt the same, and had not considered the split a permanent one.

Awful discovery

At 2.30am, Mr Ciuculescu left his friends’ house and returned to his own flat, near the Qube restaurant.

Upon entering the building, he saw Michaela hanging from a bannister in the shared stairwell.

He ran back to Mr Petcu’s house, and banged on the doors and windows.

After being told that something had happened to Michaela, Mr Petcu called the police en-route to Mr Ciuculescu’s flat.

They were met at the scene by PC Jayne Colley.

The inquest heard from now-retired police officer Mrs Colley, who arrived from Tenby police station at 2.36am, having received a radio message that other officers, including DS Matt Briggs, were en-route from Pembroke Dock.

The-then PC Colley was flagged down in her squad car by two Romanians, Michaela’s former boyfriend and his friend Mr Petcu, known locally as ‘John’, and was told by both Michaela was dead, hanging inside the flats’ communal stairway.

PC Colley, with the help of Mr Petcu, took Michaela’s body down, before other officers and paramedics arrived.

Barrister Peter Donnison, for Michaela’s family, questioned whether she was breaking protocols to preserve potential evidence by untying Michaela, accompanied by Mr Petcu.

Mrs Colley said: “I can’t remember whether I asked him to come or he volunteered, but I am very grateful for him coming in. I was the only officer present at the time; I asked ‘John’ to hold her body as I couldn’t handle her on my own, I didn’t want her to fall down; we laid her on the stairs, we gave her that respect.”

Mrs Colley said the potential crime scene was then preserved.

CCTV concerns

Concerns were raised during day one of the inquest that enquires had not been fully followed up by police, with possible missing CCTV footage.

Scene of crime officer Kenneth Greenish later stated the scene had been preserved “as best as possible”, adding: “If there was the slightest chance this young lady could’ve been saved I would’ve allowed anyone to take her down that could’ve managed it.”

DS Matt Briggs, following questions from Coroner Mark Layton and Mr Donnison, conceded to the inquest the police STORM (System for Tasking and Operational Resource Management) report into the ongoing investigation had been poorly recorded, and had led to a potential duplication of officers’ work.

He stated that all deaths were continuously reviewed and were “never a closed door”.

Mr Donnison told DS Briggs: “There is no evidence that this is suicide other than the body being found as it was, there was no history of suicide attempts.

“There are no witnesses present saying they had spoken to her and she was thinking of doing this; on the contrary you had people saying the opposite.”

He also said the STORM report failed to show if any post-incident enquiries had been followed up.

The third day of the inquest, last Friday, heard Michaela had, several years before, experienced depression and anxiety, and had taken antidepressants, which Michaela’s mother Christine Williams said was due to problems from a previous relationship.

Records of Michaela’s mobile phone text messages were read by DS Briggs, in which she expressed feelings of loneliness and hurt.

However, Mr Donnison, for the family, stated the messages read out could be taken out of context from the many, many thousands interrogated.

'A heart of gold'

Western Telegraph: Michaela Haines had plans to train as a mental health nurse.Michaela Haines had plans to train as a mental health nurse.

Mrs Williams told the inquest Michaela “had a certain sparkle in her eyes,” and “a heart of gold,” and “fought every day for what she believed in”.

On December 22, she had spoken to Michaela from Bristol, where the family had gone to visit Michaela’s brother Liam.

Mrs Williams said the next she heard of Michaela was a harrowing call from a police contact centre, followed by a visit from two police officers, who said they were “not going to beat about the bush,” telling her Michaela had been found hanged.

Mrs Williams said it was “clear police immediately assumed Michaela did commit suicide,” later adding: “I do not believe Michaela would have committed suicide, there are so many inconsistencies in the evidence highlighted.”

She raised concerns about bruises on Michaela’s body and the level of the GHB drug in her system.

The inquest heard Mrs Williams, in the time after Michaela’s death, had obtained witness statements and CCTV footage herself.

She went on to say: “I want to pay tribute to our beautiful daughter we miss deeply; she will always be in our hearts.”

DI Cameron Richey, involved in the post-investigation after the matter was referred back to police by Mr Layton, said there was no evidence of any third-party involvement in Michaela’s death, and police policy had been adhered to.

He said he was “not convinced” the unknown male had anything significant to contribute to any investigation.

He conceded the STORM report was “perhaps not the correct document to keep an inquiry going.”

Mr Donnison stressed there was a lack of evidence that Michaela had taken her own life, asking for an open conclusion to be recorded.

HM Coroner Mark Layton is expected to deliver a conclusion by November 23.