Wales On Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - KATIE-ANN GUPWELL Re­porter [email protected]­line.co.uk

AHEARTBROKEN man has de­scribed the mo­ment he learned his preg­nant girl­friend had killed her­self. Tal­ented sportswoman Imo­gen Evans, who had rep­re­sented Wales in both net­ball and row­ing, was found dead at the home she shared with Michael Stokes ear­lier this year.

At the time she was six weeks preg­nant by Michael and the cou­ple were plan­ning to buy a house.

But Michael’s world was shat­tered when, on one oth­er­wise un­re­mark­able morn­ing in June, po­lice ar­rived at the of­fice where he works to tell him his beloved part­ner had taken her own life.

Last month an in­quest into her death heard Imo­gen had bat­tled men­tal health is­sues and lived with bu­limia for most of her life.

But Michael, speak­ing at the home the cou­ple shared, said he never imag­ined he would be given the dev­as­tat­ing news Imo­gen had taken her own life.

Imo­gen, 28, was a solic­i­tor and she had planned to buy a home with Michael be­fore her tragic death.

At the home they shared lies a mem­ory book Imo­gen made for Michael last Christ­mas.

Stored safely in a box, it has lain un­touched for months as Michael has not been able to face look­ing at it since he was given the heart­break­ing news that Imo­gen was gone.

It shows ev­ery­thing from pic­tures of nights out to cel­e­bra­tions to pieces of the flow­ers that were the first Michael had ever bought for Imo­gen.

“I haven’t opened it – I can’t,” he said.

“When I blank [what hap­pened] out I do OK – when I’m fo­cus­ing on work and my fam­ily and my friends.

“But I woke up on Tues­day and, as I got into the car, it popped up – a mem­ory from a year ago and it was when we added each other on Face­book.

“That was a tough day. I wasn’t very good com­pany in work that day.”

Michael, 38, met Imo­gen around a year ago on the dat­ing app Tin­der. Michael said: “I’d ac­tu­ally matched with her a cou­ple of times but we’d never spo­ken.

“She re­mem­bered the first mes­sage I sent be­cause I said: ‘This is like the third time we’ve matched – per­haps we should have a chat this time.’

“She said that stood out to her be­cause it was me tak­ing the mick.

“We started speak­ing on the Tues­day and three days later she mes­saged me and said: ‘ Do you fancy the most ran­dom first date ever? I’ve got a spare ticket for the Wales v New Zealand game.’”

De­scrib­ing that date, dur­ing last year’s au­tumn se­ries, he said: “We went to the game and I didn’t watch one minute of the game. We just spoke the whole way through it. We got on un­be­liev­ably. The first night, at the rugby, was the best night of my life. It was one of those nights I’ll never for­get.”

Imo­gen moved to Hir­waun to live with Michael six weeks later and they didn’t spend more than two days apart from each other af­ter they went to that game.

He said: “We were lit­er­ally in­seper­a­ble. I know six weeks sounds crazy fast but it just felt nat­u­ral. It just hap­pened.”

Michael said Imo­gen had been very hon­est with him about her men­tal health from the be­gin­ning.

She told him she’d had “a break­down in work” but had re­cov­ered. De­spite this she con­tin­ued to strug­gle with bu­limia.

“She was still go­ing back to The Pri­ory in Bris­tol one day ev­ery cou­ple of weeks I think,” Michael added.

“She was still suf­fer­ing with bu­limia. She’d tell me about what she would eat and how she’d binge and purge, I think they’d call it.

“She told me about the is­sues she’d had and she was still hav­ing coun­selling ses­sions for it.

“When we first met she didn’t like be­ing on her own. She suf­fered with bu­limia when she was on her own and she’d panic.

“And I think, look­ing back, that’s prob­a­bly why ev­ery­thing moved so quickly and she wanted to spend so much time with me. She didn’t like be­ing on her own.”

Michael, who works in sales, said Imo­gen wouldn’t eat ex­ces­sively when she was with him but he wasn’t the only per­son who helped her through it.

He thinks she was gen­er­ally bet­ter when she had peo­ple around her and func­tioned bet­ter with com­pany.

He said: “The one thing she called me was her bal­loon. She said her ther­a­pist told her she would cling to some­body or some­thing and it would be her bal­loon which would keep her afloat.

“From Christ­mas-time, re­ally, that’s what she would call me.”

He also ex­plained Imo­gen would open up when she was at her “dark­est points”.

The in­quest re­vealed her di­aries con­tained sui­ci­dal thoughts and de­tails of her strug­gles with bu­limia, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

Michael said: “What she said was she found it com­fort­ing to know that if she did die, the pain wouldn’t be there any more.

“And I said: ‘Do you ac­tu­ally think you’d think about it?’

“And she said: ‘No, I’d never con­sider do­ing it. I just find it com­fort­ing that the pain isn’t for ever.’

“I didn’t un­der­stand that but the way she ex­plained it she con­vinced me that it was sen­si­ble in the way she was think­ing it.

“I can’t think back now as to how she con­vinced me of that to be hon­est.”

But even though Imo­gen was very open about her men­tal health she was also seen to be happy and had a lot of things to look for­ward to in life.

“We were buy­ing a house, she was preg­nant – I never would have thought for a se­cond [her death]

was any­thing that would have oc­curred,” Michael added.

“I knew she was down and I knew she was low at points but I thought she was back from all that.”

He also said the pair were “de­lighted” when they dis­cov­ered they were ex­pect­ing a lit­tle one.

Re­call­ing the day they found out, Michael said: “She came out of the bath­room and she looked quite shocked. She said: ‘I’ve got some­thing to tell you but I don’t want you to bicker with me.’

“She just pulled out the preg­nancy test and I couldn’t be­lieve it – I was so pleased.

“I knew she wasn’t tak­ing any con­tra­cep­tion and she said she’d wanted a baby and she wanted ev­ery­thing with me – a house and a fam­ily and the lot. I just didn’t think it would hap­pen that quick.

“And it wasn’t a bad thing – it was a good shock. We were de­lighted at the news. She cried.”

Michael said June 22 this year had been an en­tirely nor­mal day un­til his world came crash­ing down.

Imo­gen had de­cided to work from home at the time be­cause Ed Sheeran was play­ing a con­cert in Cardiff and she didn’t want to get stuck in any train dis­rup­tion. The cou­ple would usu­ally park and ride but, that morn­ing, Michael trav­elled to work alone.

“I left and be­cause I was on my own I text her and said: ‘I don’t like the jour­ney with­out you’,” he said. “‘I miss you too’, I think she replied.” He later mes­saged Imo­gen in­form­ing her he’d ar­rived at work safely but as the day went on she stopped re­ply­ing to his mes­sages.

He said: “It wasn’t that far out of the or­di­nary be­cause if she got that fo­cused into her work she would be on form for hours at a time so I just as­sumed she was busy.

“But the longer it went on I thought ‘what’s go­ing on?’ I mes­saged prob­a­bly about 20 times.

“Stupidly, I said: ‘Can you please tell me that you’re not ly­ing in a heap on the floor?’

“I didn’t mean any­thing by it but it’s just one of those things you say.

“Then later on in the af­ter­noon the po­lice turned up.”

Po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rived at Michael’s of­fice to tell him the aw­ful news that Imo­gen had been found dead at the home they shared.

Her mother, Su­san Evans, dis­cov- ered her daugh­ter’s body just hours af­ter re­ceiv­ing a mes­sage from Imo­gen which said: “I will re­move my­self from the face of the earth.”

At the in­quest it was heard she had ar­gued with her mother prior to the in­ci­dent.

Re­count­ing the mo­ment he was told of Imo­gen’s death, Michael said: “It just shocked me. I ac­tu­ally threw up. I just felt com­pletely numb.”

Since June Michael ad­mit­ted he’s found it hard to cope. He’s spent the past few months try­ing to block things out to get by.

Michael said: “I’ve been try­ing to keep my­self to­gether – it’s not easy.

“I slept on the sofa for three months – I didn’t go back to bed.

“I kind of blank stuff out and peo­ple keep say­ing it’s not the best way to deal with stuff. I sup­pose it’s my way. Peo­ple have said I should go to coun­selling but I don’t see any ben­e­fit in that.

“I’m com­fort­able talk­ing to peo­ple I know but sit­ting in a room with a stranger and go­ing through ev­ery­thing – it’s kind of when the emo­tion comes back, I think.

“I have been re­ally lucky. I have a re­ally good net­work of sup­port from my fam­ily and friends. They have all ral­lied to­gether for me.”

But even though Imo­gen strug­gled with many is­sues through­out her short life she also had many amaz­ing qual­i­ties that Michael was ea­ger to talk about.

Imo­gen had rep­re­sented Wales in both net­ball and row­ing and was very en­thu­si­as­tic about sport.

“She’d take me to the park at 6am on a Sun­day morn­ing and make me run and do ridicu­lous ex­er­cises,” he said.

“Be­cause I was older than her she said she wanted to keep me as fit as she could so I’d be around as long as I could be. She didn’t want me dy­ing when I was young, she said.

“She was so funny. She used to say: ‘If you die, and I’m young, I’m find­ing some­body else. So you bet­ter stay around as long as you can’.”

It was this en­dear­ing and car­ing per­son­al­ity that made Michael fall in love with Imo­gen.

When Michael talks about his mem­o­ries, he smiles fondly and it’s clear they shared a strong con­nec­tion from the very be­gin­ning.

He speaks of her with emo­tion, ten­der­ness, and – most of all – love.

Michael said: “She was the nicest, kind­est per­son you’ve ever met. And it wasn’t just me – it was when she spoke to any­body.

“When you’d have a con­ver­sa­tion with her you’d never for­get it. She was gen­uinely in­ter­ested in peo­ple.

“I’ve never met any­body like her and I know peo­ple say that when peo­ple pass away. When peo­ple die sud­denly it’s ‘she was an an­gel’ or ‘she was lovely’ and I feel bad think­ing it but the amount of peo­ple who I’ve seen pass away, or I’ve heard of, and I think: ‘Well – they weren’t that nice.’

“But Imo­gen gen­uinely was un­be­liev­able and ev­ery­one who I know who knows her has said the same.

“She was the life and soul of the party. Her smile was so in­fec­tious. If ever I was even slightly down she’d pick me up. She would al­ways give me that in­spi­ra­tional talk. She would just al­ways say the right things.”

At the in­quest, Coro­ner An­drew Barkley recorded a con­clu­sion of sui­cide.

For con­fi­den­tial sup­port the Sa­mar­i­tans can be con­tacted for free around the clock 365 days a year on 116 123.

Mike Stokes and Imo­gen Evans

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