Inconclusive evidence meant that the coroner could not rule out accidental death or that Steven was a victim of crime.
The family and friends of Steven Cook gathered at the Municipal Buildings in Crewe today hoping to learn the fate of their 20-year-old son, brother, uncle and friend who disappeared during a holiday in Crete in September 2005.
In February 2017, skeletal remains were discovered in a disused well which was being cleared by workmen.
DNA results confirmed the remains belonged to Steven and he was brought back to his home in Sandbach, Cheshire.
Concluding the three-day inquest, coroner Alan Moore said: “The law permits for an open conclusion and based on the evidence, that is an appropriate conclusion.”
Evidence examined by experts from both the UK and Greece could not determine whether Steven had been alive or dead when he entered the well.
Forensic archaeologist, Alastair Vannan described how the “fluid and unstable” conditions of the 100-year-old well had been detrimental to the preservation of vital evidence.
When asked by the coroner whether he believed Steven had been in the well since 2005, Mr Vannan replied: “I can only say that it is certainly possible.”
Items found alongside Steven’s remains included a couple of two-euro coins dated 2002, fabric remnants, a pair of Adidas ‘Stan Smith’ trainers which he was last seen wearing and various wrappers with dates on.
No items found in the depths of the 5.7 metre well could be traced back to anything later than 2005.
When Steven’s remains were discovered, the well had a small breezeblock structure surrounding it.
However, historic satellite images indicated that this was not the case in the year that Steven disappeared.
Instead, a neighbour of the well owner described it as previously having only a few planks of wood covering it and that in the dark there was no chance of seeing it and that Steven could’ve fallen in.
Another expert called upon by Cheshire Police was Forensic anthropologist, Linda Ainscough.
In a statement provided by Ainscough at the inquest, she informed the coroner of the role she played in the investigation and what she discovered when examining the evidence.
“None of the bones were together as we would have expected them to be. They had been moved around by the well workers, not just the well workers, other factors had caused things to move around as well.
“We pushed the excavation as much as possible, but it was a confined area. Safety wise, we could not excavate the whole well, meaning there are areas which may still contain human remains.
“Given the circumstances, we went through the scene very carefully and had maximum recovery of the evidence.”
Similar to Vannan, Linda Ainscough could not determine whether Steven had been alive when he entered the well, adding that she had not found any evidence of ballistic or blunt force trauma to bones, but also stated that she could not rule out foul play due to the absence of soft-tissue.
Steven, an avid Liverpool FC supporter, disappeared on the first night of his first trip abroad without his parents, celebrating what his brother Chris described as a ‘last hurrah’ before he entered his final year at the University of Liverpool.
Steven and friends were staying at the Frixos Hotel and had been invited to join a bar crawl during their first evening in Crete, leaving the hotel at 8pm with roughly 70 other people from the hotel.
At around midnight, Andrew Jackson who was on holiday with Steven said that he was feeling unwell.
He and Steven decided to head back to the hotel. However, on the walk back, they decided to stop in one last bar where Steven went to the toilet.
Mr Jackson recalled that was the last time he ever saw Steven and he was reported missing the following day.
Three witnesses who had spoken to Steven on the night of his disappearance recalled that he was alone and had asked for directions back to his hotel, but they were unable to help him.
Friends of Steven and members of the bar crawl said they did not believe he had been drinking any more than they had and that no drugs were involved, with the coroner adding that: “Sensible was a word that came up again and again in statements provided by friends and family.”
The coroner went on to say that he was satisfied that there was no evidence to suggest the 20-year-old had taken his own life, referencing a quote from Steven’s brother Chris who described Steven as: “The happiest person you could meet, with lots of plans for the future.”
In his concluding statement, coroner Alan Moore thanked the work of those involved in the investigation into Steven’s disappearance, as well as describing the Cook family as a “lovely family who never gave up hope and demonstrated dignity and fortitude throughout.”
Following the open verdict conclusion of the inquest, Chris Cook said: “The important thing is that Steven is home. The idea was that he would come home alive and we fought hard pursuing that possibility.
“Having him here, we have somewhere that we can go to share our memories, share our thoughts, have a chat to him and tell him that Liverpool are on for winning the league this year.
“He was our best little mate; he was the baby of the family and we all doted on him.”
If you have any information on the disappearance of Steven Cook, please contact Cheshire Police or the Cook family via the ‘Find Steven Cook’ Facebook page.