AN auxiliary nurse spent her final moments biting her wrists in a desperate attempt to stay awake as she froze to death on snow-covered playing fields just yards from her home.

An inquest into the death of Shelley Whitfield heard how the combined effects of five glasses of wine, prescribed medication and bitterly cold winter weather left her disorientated as she made her way home after a day out with a friend.

As hypothermia began to set in and the 21-year-old became increasingly disorientated and confused, she shed her overcoat and the mobile phone she could have used to call for help and bit her wrists to try to revive herself.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, North Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle said: "It is a most tragic set of circumstances."

The inquest at Chester-le-Street heard evidence from Dr James Sunter that a post mortem had discovered 147 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood - less than double the drink-driving limit - and gave the cause of death as hypothermia.

Dr Sunter told the hearing: "This level indicates that at the time of her death, the deceased was in a state of moderate intoxication, but was in the process of sobering up."

Miss Whitfield's friend Dean Johnson, from Washington, told the hearing that, on February 28 this year, the pair had spent about four hours in The Water House pub in North Road and that she had drunk about five large glasses of white wine.

He said: "She didn't seem drunk in the slightest. She was walking straight and talking normally."

The pair went their separate ways at about 6pm and, as snow began to fall, Miss Whitfield tried to catch a bus to her home in St Agatha's Close, in Brandon.

Bus driver Gregory Dodds told the inquest that had she waited another ten minutes, Miss Whitfield could have caught a bus directly to her door.

Rather than wait, she decided to get on the X49 service, but missed her stop and got off near Meadowfield Sports Centre, a ten-minute walk home in the dark across playing fields.

Mr Dodds said: "When she got on I thought she had had a drink, but I didn't think she was excessively drunk. She wasn't falling about."

However, by the time she got off the bus 30 minutes later, dropping her hand bag on the way, her appearance had changed.

An earlier statement from Mr Dodds was read to the inquest which stated: "She seemed like she wasn't there, she seemed like she was somewhere else."

Police believe she had tried to go straight home, but was overcome by the conditions.

Her snow-covered body was found shortly before 7am the next day about 500 metres from her home by a man walking his dog.

Detective Chief Insp Andy Reddick described Miss Whitfield as 'a hard-working, popular individual'.

He said: "There were bite marks on both wrists and forensic examination was carried out and it was confirmed that those bite marks were self-inflicted."