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After the fall: a death at Lansdowne Court

Life in Lansdowne

A vulnerable woman falls to her death from a tower block. Her partner is present. In this special Cable investigation, we try to find out what happened to Shannon Beirne.

Illustration: Sophia Checkley

Content warning: This story contains references to domestic abuse and death by falling

Shannon Beirne’s partner was present when she plunged to her death from the window of a flat they shared on the 13th floor of a Bristol high rise. He was immediately arrested on suspicion of murder, but after 36 hours he was released, while police continued trying to figure out what happened.

Officers spent the days after the tragedy in the early hours of 19 April last year trawling through CCTV and speaking to residents at Lansdowne Court in Easton – a council block known to have problems with crime and anti-social behaviour. One witness – a neighbour, who lived on a floor above – said they heard shouting coming from the couple’s flat, right until the moment the 25-year-old fell. 

Shannon’s partner, Stuart Roberts, answered no comment when questioned by Avon and Somerset Police (ASP) officers following his arrest. On the advice of his solicitor, the 43-year-old gave only a brief written statement that simply said he did not push her and did all he could to stop her climbing from the window.

DCI Simon Dewfall, the senior investigating officer (SIO) on the case, said the couple’s flat was inspected by forensics. But while he confirmed officers were told there had been shouting in the moments before Shannon’s death, and that the couple’s circumstances made the major crime team feel “uneasy”, they found no trace of a disturbance.

The Cable has been investigating the circumstances surrounding Shannon’s death for almost a year in partnership with Tortoise Media, which had just published an investigation called Fallen Women – about victims of domestic abuse who fall to their deaths from high buildings. 

It happens remarkably often, they found. A man is often arrested at the scene, neighbours say they heard an argument, friends and family say their partner was abusive. And in the early stages of the police investigation into Shannon’s death, the circumstances appeared to fit the pattern.

This story, the final edition of our Life in Lansdowne series, is about the tragic death of a young woman and the man accused of killing her. It’s an insight into the complex nature of cases like this one, set in the context of a housing crisis that’s left so many vulnerable people without a safe place to live. 

Chapter 1: The fall

ZiZi (not her real name) lives on a floor above Stuart’s flat in Lansdowne Court. On the night of Shannon’s death, she was just about to go to sleep when she heard shouting and turned on her bedroom light. It was Stuart’s voice, she said, and it was so loud that she thought for a moment he was inside her flat with her.

“Usually when they argued it was back and forth, back and forth. But with this one [Shannon] was not really giving anything,” she said, adding that she couldn’t recall exactly what the time was, but that it must have been close to midnight. “[Stuart] was shouting, but like through [his] teeth…  It was very chilling.”

“I keep my window open. I keep mine on lock but they kept theirs wide open,” she said. “[The shouting] was just very assertive… You can say all the swear words you want and everything, and you say you’re sorry and whatnot and might throw some plates… It didn’t sound like that. It sounded like something big was going to happen.”

Asked what made her think this, ZiZi, a council tenant who moved to Lansdowne Court out of emergency accommodation after fleeing an abusive relationship, said: “Because I remember when I was getting shouted at [by an abusive partner]. It was like that tone. I can’t really explain it, but it was that tone when you know, even if you haven’t done something wrong, you’re going to get something.”

ZiZi said she heard Stuart shout “Shannon, don’t mess with me”, and then what she thought was the couple’s window slamming shut. But when she went to look, she saw their window on the 13th floor was open, and Stuart’s head. It was then that she realised Shannon had fallen, and that the sound she heard… It was Shannon landing.

“I was like, ‘Wait, no, it’s the 13th floor,’” she said. “This happens in films, this is not happening here.”

“The sound,” ZiZi added. “There was no crying, no struggle sound, no scream… All you heard was arguing, and him, how he was talking to her… me thinking they slammed the window but it was her landing. And that was it – it was just dead silence after that.”

ZiZi, in the days after Shannon’s death, was one of several Lansdowne Court residents who gave an account of what they saw or heard to the police – at least three people said they heard a disturbance. But what she and others told officers was very different to what Stuart himself told us happened in the moments before his partner’s death.

And while Lansdowne tenants like ZiZi knew of Shannon and were deeply shaken by her death, none of them knew her particularly well. She hadn’t been living in Lansdowne Court very long, and most tenants we spoke to were more familiar with Stuart – a man that some residents tried to avoid.

Shannon had no social media that we could find. In the one picture we discovered online, she was in her teens; she was smiling and looked happy. But we only had a glimmer of who she was and wanted to find out more: what she was like, how she spent her time and who with, and how she ended up in Lansdowne Court. 

The young woman’s family told us through the police they didn’t want to speak. The friends of hers we reached out to on social media didn’t return our messages.

A colleague, who had worked with Shannon at a Wetherspoon pub in Clifton before her death, said: “She was just lovely… Quite timid at first. She worked here for about two months on day shifts, and got on with all the locals. None of us worked with her for that long but everyone had a good opinion of her.”

Another colleague also said that Shannon had shown up to work one day with a black eye.

But it was only Stuart himself who could provide us with detailed information about what Shannon was like.

Chapter 2: The arrest

“We just fell in love, plain and fucking simple,” Stuart said when asked to describe his and Shannon’s relationship. “I’m 43, she died at 25, so to me it was a blessing that I had some beautiful, absolutely fucking stunning, beautiful young lady wanting to spend time with me.”

He knew Shannon was vulnerable, he said, and he wanted to protect her. And they were happy together, he added, but not all the time. “Every day felt happy, but we’re humans,” he told the Cable. “So some days were shitter than others.”

“To be in a normal human relationship is to become a bit angry now and again, because you love that person,” he said. “If a normal human relationship is ‘sit there quietly and don’t make a noise’, then go crack on with your ‘normal human relationship.’”

He and Shannon met a few years ago while Stuart was in hospital, being treated for blood poisoning. She was there visiting a friend. The two of them hit it off and she soon moved into his flat in Lansdowne Court. 

We asked him about accounts we’d heard, of people witnessing their arguments and of signs that he might have harmed her physically. One Lansdowne resident told us that on the morning of her death Shannon was trying to hide her face, that there was a mark on her cheek and scratches on the top of her arms.

While Stuart admitted they fought sometimes, he disputed any claim of violence or domestic abuse.

Could he tell us what happened in the hours before Shannon’s death? He said the two of them had a “good day”, went shopping and in the evening to a pub near the city centre not far from Bristol Temple Meads station.

“It rolled up to just before 11pm… I had my dog with me, my dog comes everywhere with me,” he told the Cable. “I gave [Shannon] my bank card, my wallet. I said, ‘Get a taxi home, I can’t take the dog in the taxi’, and I said, ‘I can walk from here to Easton in 10 minutes, 15 minutes.’”

He said that he waited for her taxi to arrive, but when he arrived home was surprised to find that Shannon wasn’t there.

“I got home, I took my clothes off. I’m laying on the sofa, the television is on. I’m in my boxer shorts, I’ve put a bath bomb in the bath that she bought for me that day. I don’t use bath bombs but I thought, ‘Fuck it let’s just do a bath bomb.”

“And I’m thinking: ‘Where’s Shannon?’… I’m not worrying,” he said. “I’m trying to phone her, but she’s not one to answer her phone, you know, if she wants to talk to you she’ll phone you.”

Police told the Cable that CCTV showed Shannon arriving at the tower block alone shortly before midnight, taking the lift to the 13th floor and then, “almost immediately”, she fell to her death from the window.

Describing the moment Shannon arrived at the front door, Stuart said: “She had the clothes on that I’d bought for her that day, that we’d been shopping for… We had a nice day and she just came in and said ‘I’m sick of the world, and I’m sick of the people in [it]. 

“And then she jumped on the sofa, she was crying, she took her glasses off, took her hair [down].

“She jumped out the fucking window, and I grabbed her,” he added, explaining that he managed to get hold of Shannon’s wrist and ankle. 

“I couldn’t hold her… and then [her] shoe came off,” he said, running a hand over a tattoo of Shannon’s name on his arm that he got following her death. Staring at his hands, he becomes visibly upset.

Asked why he thought he was arrested on suspicion of murdering Shannon, Stuart said: “That just makes me want to laugh. I tried to save Shannon… I did my best to pull her back [inside]. I couldn’t do it, and I’ll beat myself up every day for that.”

People heard shouting coming from their flat. So, we asked Stuart, were you angry at her that night? “No, no,” he replied. “The only noise that came from me that night was me saying, ‘You’re going to die if you drop’, and ‘I can’t hold you’.”

After being held in custody for 36 hours following Shannon’s death, he was released under investigation – a police power that, unlike bail, has no time limit or conditions. He moved out of his flat in Lansdowne Court, where he had lived as a council tenant for about a decade, and said he was made homeless.

Stuart said his life has fallen apart since Shannon’s death. He said he doesn’t want to go back to Lansdowne Court and that going to prison would be a relief – that he’s so used to spending time in jail it’s normal for him.

He said that Shannon had been going to counselling, and that he thought this “opened Pandora’s box”.

“Shannon decided to do what she wanted to do,” he said. “She didn’t hesitate doing it… As sad as it is, as hurtful as it is, if she didn’t want to do it she wouldn’t have done it. She obviously had some shit going on inside herself that she didn’t let anyone else know about.

“I’ll see her again, I’ll be back with her soon,” he said, before kissing his tattoo of her name and the date of her death. The date, we noticed, was two days off. Shannon died on 19 April but the date on his arm read 17 April.

Stuart told us that he had been self-harming since Shannon’s death.

Asked if he has any family or friends to support him, he said that at the age of 12 he was taken into care. “I haven’t seen my family for nearly 15 years,” he said. “I keep asking why I was taken from my family – they won’t tell me.

“From then I just didn’t have a family… Out of me and my five brothers and sisters, I’m in the middle… I’m like, ‘What the fuck was wrong with me?’”

Chapter 3: TRAPPED

ZiZi said she was deeply disturbed by Shannon’s death. “It made me feel like I wish it was me, not her,” she told the Cable. “I was just that unhappy and I just feel like it shouldn’t have been her.

“[It] really affected me for a while, and I went into a dark spot… I cared about her, and it’s just the fact [that] I’m never gonna see you again, like not have a conversation with you again.”

For ZiZi and other residents who spoke to the Cable throughout this series, the tragedy also heightened their already serious concerns about safety in the building and the mental health of the vulnerable people living in Lansdowne Court.

We previously reported on how a sex offender who exposed his genitals to children in the building’s laundry room was allowed to continue living in the block despite being convicted, and told the story of a single father who feared for the safety of his two young boys due to the persistent crime and antisocial behaviour.

Half of the roughly 270 people who live in the building, some of whom live in cramped flats that do not meet space standards, are council tenants. Many of them said they felt trapped in the block, and in a housing system that’s failing them.

There are currently about 19,000 people on the council’s housing waiting list, and more than 1,100 in temporary accommodation waiting for somewhere suitable to live. The number is growing as the housing crisis deepens, and the local authority says the “options are slim” for those who need a change of property.

Bristol City Council – specifically its cabinet member for housing Tom Renhard – was approached multiple times for an interview. The authority did not respond to our questions, saying only that Renhard was struggling with diary challenges. 

In the 12 months to July last year, police were called to Lansdowne Court more than once a week. According to police data released to the Cable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) there have been 85 domestic abuse-related crimes on the estate since 2008 – six incidents per year.

The tower block was effectively shut down under a police closure order in 2019 due to ongoing and persistent antisocial behaviour, particularly in relation to drug misuse. Some residents previously told us the order was not effective, and raised concerns that the authorities – the police, and the city council, which owns and manages the building – were not doing enough to protect them. 

So when it emerged that ASP faced an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into its handling of an incident involving Shannon just a few hours before her death, and with little public information about the scope or the exact details, speculation among Lansdowne residents was informed by their own experience and opinion of the authorities: could they have done more to protect her?

Police told us they were unable to share specifics about the incident while the IOPC investigation remained ongoing. But what we do know is officers were called to the Knights Templar pub near Bristol Temple Meads station and arrived to find Shannon.

“Another person was involved,” DCI Dewfall told the Cable. “The parties were separated and Shannon was dealt with by police officers… She didn’t disclose anything that would give them cause for concern… She asked the officers to take her somewhere else in Bristol, which they did.”

DCI Dewfall could not say if the other person involved was Stuart.

“We know that she [then] walked home to her flat, and that almost immediately after arriving in her flat, she sadly fell to her death,” said DCI Dewfall, explaining that CCTV at Lansdowne Court captured her arriving and taking the lift to the 13th floor in the minutes before her death. 

Chapter 4: case closed

After seven months of enquiries, police took the decision to close the case and told Stuart that he was no longer under investigation. Ultimately, DCI Dewfall said, police had to go on the evidence that did not support the theory Shannon was pushed. 

“The surrounding circumstances of this particular case and the background of the two individuals left us feeling at first uneasy about the circumstances and how Shannon came to come out of the window and ultimately fall to her death,” he said.

“One of the challenges that I was faced with, as the senior investigating officer for this, was to really try and understand the two hypotheses that I developed: one, was Shannon pushed from the window, and two, the second hypothesis, did she jump or did she fall out of the window?”

DCI Dewfall explained that there was a sofa under the window that Shannon fell from. For someone to push a victim out of the window, he said, they would need to climb onto the sofa. It would have been difficult, he suggested. 

“We spent two days as a team going through that, really asking ourselves the question: if I was the suspect, how could I push, lift, Shannon out of that window in the time that was available?”

“We looked at evidence around the window, of a grab, of a struggle, any torn clothing or fibres that might have left a clue as to someone not going out of that window willingly,” he added. “The [flat] was messy… but there was no evidence that there had been a fight.”

Shannon’s body was found about a metre and a half from the tower, on a patch of grass in the garden of a maisonette in the neighbouring low-rise block. She did not fall directly downwards from the window. 

DCI Dewfall said the police spoke to a fall expert to “interpret the scene” based on where and how Shannon landed but that they could not “with any degree of confidence” indicate how she came to plunge from the window.

The detective said there was no immediate physical evidence at the scene to suggest that Stuart pushed Shannon. But he was arrested, then released but kept under investigation, and we were curious about why police took this decision. 

Had there been any previous incidents between Stuart and Shannon that led officers to feel there was something potentially worrying? “Yes,” he said. “That was part of the rationale for why we were initially suspicious – the background to their case.”

“There had been an incident earlier in the evening, when police had been called. And I think that overlaying all those different bits of information led us to suspect that actually, was there foul play involved in this?”

And what did police think of witness reports of shouting coming from the flat, just before Shannon’s death? “So we’ve got various witnesses who described the noises that were coming from that flat,” DCI Dewfall said. “Three people were saying what they heard, and in many cases what they saw looking up at the window. So there was clearly the sound of loud voices.”

Did anyone see anything? “Yes,” he said. “But I can’t go any further than that.”

What evidence was there supporting Stuart’s account that Shannon voluntarily jumped out of the window? “The examination of the scene, the witness accounts that we’d obtained, the timings, the forensic examination, the toxicology, in my view,” said DCI Dewfall, “supported that hypothesis.”

So, what now?

While the police investigation is over, there are still question marks about what happened that night. We’ve heard Stuart’s account, but will never get Shannon’s side of the story.

An inquest into Shannon’s death was opened in June last year but is yet to be heard by a coroner and, ten months on, no date has been set for the hearing. The IOPC investigation into police contact with Shannon in the hours before her death is still ongoing. 

There’s no evidence that Stuart pushed Shannon. But in cases like this – when there’s no trace of a disturbance, no weapon, no witnesses – it’s hard to know for sure what happened.

When Shannon’s inquest is heard, the coroner will consider the evidence available to reach a conclusion about how the 25-year-old died. Their conclusion might now be the only formal judgement Shannon’s family will get about that fateful night last year – the last chance to find out how she fell, and why.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact charities Women’s Aid and Refuge.

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