A grandmother who died while recovering from a stroke in hospital may have been murdered by a predator who could strike again, police warned.

Valerie Kneale, 75, had been sitting up and talking when relatives visited her at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

Her grown-up children wanted to stay the night with her but medics said there was no need.

However, then she suffered a devastating second stroke and never regained consciousness.

After a post-mortem examination, it was discovered that she had bled to death due to being assaulted, possibly sexually.

Despite detectives interviewing thousands – including ward staff, patients and visitors – no one has been charged with the murder. Now a £20,000 reward has been offered to catch her killer.

Detective Chief Inspector Jill Johnston, of Lancashire Police, said: ‘This may be at the hands of somebody who is a predator and who may have committed previous attacks of this nature and may continue to do so.’

Mrs Kneale, who lived with husband Bill in Knott End-on-Sea, Lancashire, was taken to hospital on November 12, 2018, after falling ill. Her niece Lisa Jaffier told Crimewatch Live: ‘She was sat up, she was communicating.

‘Obviously she was going to have challenges in her recovery but we were all very hopeful of a positive outcome. Her children wanted to stay with her that evening but the hospital said really she was in the best place that she could be in, there’s really no need, she’s going to be absolutely fine.’

However, Mrs Kneale took a turn for the worse – doctors said she would not recover and the family agreed to withdraw treatment.

She died on November 16. But in a routine post-mortem test, a pathologist found she suffered a horrific internal injury and told the police. An inquest heard the pathologist ‘felt’ that Mrs Kneale’s injury ‘was caused by a forcible sexual assault after she was admitted to hospital’.

Ms Jaffier added: ‘To think that someone did that to a lovely person at a time when she was helpless, at her most vulnerable, where she couldn’t shout out, she couldn’t defend herself… We’re left with a huge wound that can’t even begin to heal until we find out who’s responsible for doing that so that we can get justice.’

No CCTV and reduced forensic opportunities due to a gap before the alarm was raised were challenges, DCI Johnston said.

She added: ‘The fact this has happened in a hospital setting is of grave concern to everyone and we’ve worked tirelessly along with the hospital to get justice for Mrs Kneale and her family, but also to stop this ever happening again.’

A healthcare professional arrested in 2021 on suspicion of murder was later eliminated from the investigation.

Independent charity Crimestoppers announced the reward for any information that leads to the conviction of her murderer.

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it is ‘co-operating fully’ with the investigation and its thoughts are with Mrs Kneale’s family. No other deaths currently under investigation are being linked to that of Mrs Kneale, police confirmed.

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