ONE of the UK’s leading cancer research scientists was found hanging after attempting an act of sexual gratification “that went tragically wrong”, an inquest heard.

Professor Alan Clarke, 52, had worked at Cardiff University for 15 years and was the director of its European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute (ECSCRI) and Cancer Research UK’s Cardiff Centre. He was also a key figure in the Wales Cancer Research Centre (WCRC).

He was found dead in woodland near his home in Llangeview, near Usk on the evening of December 28 by a friend.

They had been asked to help find Professor Clarke by his wife, Kathryn Clarke, who was concerned he had not returned from walking the family’s dog from about 4pm.

The friend eventually found Professor Clarke hanging from a tree.

A post-mortem examination carried out in the days after his death found Professor Clarke died from asphyxia caused by hanging.

Kathryn Clarke told Gwent coroner David Bowen that she was sure her husband had not meant to die because “he had too much to live for”.

Arrangements had been made for a family visit to the seaside which was due to be taken in the days after December 28, the inquest heard.

Recording a verdict of misadventure at Newport Coroner’s Court, Mr Bowen concluded that he could not be sure Professor Clarke meant to die.

Instead he said that he could only conclude that, because of the way Professor Clarke was dressed, that he had attempted an act of sexual gratification “that went tragically wrong”.

In the days after Professor Clarke died, the head of the Cardiff University’s school of biosciences Professor Jim Murray said: “The sudden and untimely death of Professor Alan Clarke will be felt by all of us who knew him and the wider scientific community.

“He was an invaluable colleague, a patient and thoughtful mentor, and an outstanding scientist and leader.”

The director of the WCRC Professor John Chester added: “Alan will be missed greatly by very many of us. He has been a scientist of genuinely international reputation and impact in his field. As well as his outstanding scientific work he was central to so much that is good in cancer research in Cardiff and in Wales."