CHILDREN found the decomposing body of a middle-aged man as they played on a housing estate at the weekend, police said last night.

The man, who is thought to have lain dead on his kitchen floor for several weeks, was discovered by children as they retrieved their football from a garden in The Grove, Coxhoe, near Durham City, at about 4pm on Sunday.

A post-mortem examination carried out yesterday at the University Hospital of North Durham by pathologist Dr James Sunter did not reveal the cause of death.

As a result, forensic specialists returned to the house yesterday to begin further tests and the area remained cordoned off.

A spokesman for Durham Police said last night that detectives were refusing to draw any conclusions or speculate on the cause of death until all tests had been completed.

Although the deceased has yet to be formally identified, the house where the discovery was made is understood to have been home to unemployed actor Stephen Milburn.

The 42-year-old, a performing arts graduate of Middlesex Polytechnic, who appeared in Our Friends in the North, Crocodile Shoes and Byker Grove, had lived in the house for about a year.

In October of last year, Mr Milburn, who had a history of drinking problems, pleaded guilty to affray after pointing an air pistol at a teenage boy, who had come to his then home in Horton Crescent, Bowburn, to ask for a football that had been confiscated.

He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and moved to Coxhoe shortly afterwards.

A neighbour, who did not wish to be identified, said: "It is such a shock. I know he didn't get on with the local children, who called him all sorts of names, but he would always say hello in the street."