A conman was found unresponsive in his prison cell, an inquest held in Oxford was told today.

HM Prison Bullingdon inmate Eric Austin, 53, was found dead in the Bicester prison on February 15.

At an inquest held at Oxford Coroner's Court, senior coroner Darren Salter concluded that Austin had died of natural circumstances, listing Covid as the main reason with asthma as a contributing cause.

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Dubbed the "dine and dash conman", the Bicester inmate had a long history of offences, targeting restaurants and racking up hefty bills for food and wine before fleeing without paying.

The court heard today that Austin had suffered from a number of mental health problems including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and alcohol dependency.

It was in 1991 that Austin, who was born in Banbury, first received contact from mental health services.

He had been admitted into Littlemore earlier this year after being found to be wandering alone in a car park in Reading, muttering incomprehensibly to himself.

Austin was detained at Littlemore mental health centre from January 11 to February 3 and discharged back to the Bullingdon on February 7, the court was told.

Bicester Advertiser: Eric Austin Eric Austin John Austin, brother of the deceased, had expressed a desire to attend the hearing today though it appeared he was not able to be present.

The coroner said John Austin had expressed concerns over discharge of his brother from the mental health ward and that "he must have shown signs of being unwell".

A conclusion was made in John Austin's absence by the coroner that Eric Austin had "died due to Covid but did not show any significant symptoms before his death".

The inquest was told that a post-mortem examination found "the main finding was a very large heart" but that there was "no evidence of an acute cardiac event".

Austin's lungs had been "swollen" with "fluid throughout" and that there was strong indication of an "acute lung injury", the court heard.

Covid swabs had come back positive for the virus and the acute lung injury was not something that could occur over a matter of hours, the post-mortem found.

Bicester Advertiser: Oxford Coroner's Court Oxford Coroner's Court

It was suggested that Austin must have experienced some discomfort in days leading up to his death but stayed quiet about it.

The police point of view was that there was "no evidence of any untoward happening".

It was concluded that there had been evidence of "heavier breathing" but nothing at all outwardly suggestive of his imminent "unexpected" death.

Eric Austin was the first person to die from Covid at the Bullingdon Prison outside a pandemic wave.