A FORMER soldier who left Pendle to search for missing toddler Madeleine McCann died in mysterious circumstances after returning home to Nelson, an inquest heard.

Ex-paratrooper Colin Sahlke sold all his possessions around May 2007 to raise £5,000 to fund a trip to Praia de Luz with pal Steve Taylor, so they could join the hunt for the missing youngster.

The pair, who united while working at a shower factory in Nelson, met Madeleine’s father Gerry before they searched the coast and waste ground around the resort for clues.

But Burnley Coroner’s Court was told that by the time Mr Sahlke returned to East Lancashire, he was drinking heavily and lived latterly in a flat in Carr Road.

His body was found by his landlord on April 19 after he got no response at his front door, the inquest heard.

Dr Zuhir Twage, a consultant pathologist, conducted post-mortem tests on the 48-year-old, which showed he had a blood alcohol level equivalent to having drunk 12 cans of beer.

But Dr Twage also found a significant amount of morphine in his system and said that this, combined with the effects of the alcohol, had caused the death.

Former partner Christina Ellis, who had ended their relationship shortly before Mr Sahlke's death, said that while the deceased had a recognised drink problem, he never smoked or took illegal drugs.

The inquest heard that Mr Sahlke was on a number of prescription medications, including the painkiller Tramadol, but nothing which contained morphine.

Recording an open verdict, East Lancashire coroner Richard Taylor said there was no evidence as to how Mr Sahlke had come to take morphine, but he could not ignore the medical finding.

“We will never have that explanation that we would want,” added Mr Taylor.

Before he set out for Praia de Luz, Mr Sahlke told how he still felt the loss of his 18-year-old daughter Debbie, who had died in a car crash six years earlier.

He had two other daughters.