The animals are believed to have been without food for up to three months and so resorted to “gnawing at” their owner 56-year-old recluse Janet Veal’s dead body.

Neighbours alerted the police when they noticed a build-up of mail and realised they hadn’t seen Veal for some time. Officers gained entrance via an unsecured window and discovered dirty rooms full of rubbish and a number of dead cats and dogs. Southampton Coroner’s Court heard how PC Dave Ivey then found Veal’s body in the kitchen.

Coroner Keith Wiseman said: “It was clear that certain parts of Mrs Veal’s body were missing and had, the officer formed the view, effectively been gnawed and eaten away by the animals.”

An autopsy proved difficult due to the extent of decomposition, but it was concluded that she died from natural causes. Wiseman added: “There is no indication otherwise and no suggestion, if I can go to the complete extreme, any suggestion that she had been in any way attacked by the animals while she was alive.”

Veal’s husband is thought to have left the family home the previous year, and neighbours described her as reclusive.

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