A man has committed suicide after suffering a relapse of his gambling addiction during the pandemic, his wife has told an inquest.
Luke Ashton, who died aged 40 in April 2021, had run up gambling debts of 18,000 with several online betting companies two years earlier.
His family fears he has resumed gambling while on leave from work after receiving an offer for a free bet.
The betting company Flutter UKI, owner of Betfair, is represented at the inquiry.
Flutter has been named as a person of interest in the inquiry, which will assess whether any acts or omissions by the gambling company contributed to his death during the pandemic.
It is thought to be the first time a gambling operator has been formally involved in an inquiry in this way.
Mr Ashton’s wife, Annie, read a statement to the inquest which described her husband as “a bright, happy, bubbly person who made friends easily”.
“Pain and Harm from Gambling”
She said they had been to school together but only became a couple in 2008 and later had a son.
He said: “He masked his pain by suffering from a gambling addiction, an illness he didn’t recognize.
“He didn’t want to die. He had everything he wanted. The only thing he didn’t want was the pain and harm of gambling.”
The inquest was told that in farewell messages he had spoken of suffering from “demons” and had warned his son against gambling on a list of dos and don’ts.
Ms Ashton said her husband had confessed in 2013 that he had placed a £600 bet on football and had apologized profusely and tried to cancel the bet, which he later won.
The inquiry learned that he had then placed temporary freezes on his betting accounts.
Ms Ashton said she learned in 2019 that she was £18,000 in debt from loans she’d taken out to fund her gambling but managed to repay the money after selling their home.
Ms Ashton said they had talked about a trial separation but then stayed together.
She said: “He took full responsibility. He wasn’t trying to hide it, he wanted to make amends. He hated it and said he was done with gambling.”
But the investigation found that in April 2021, he had started gambling again, sometimes more than a hundred times a day.
He often placed early morning and late night bets on sports including Australian greyhound racing and women’s netball.
Mrs Ashton was asked by her legal representative Jesse Nicholls if she believed her husband’s death was caused by gambling. She said yes and that gambling was the source of all her problems.
“Many Positive Factors”
Gambling addiction expert Professor Dame Clare Gerada, president of the Royal College of GPs, also testified at the hearing.
He said the nation’s only primary helpline for problem gamblers is getting about 60 to 70 referrals a month.
Of Mr Ashton, he said: ‘He had a lot of positive factors in his life – he was a younger man, with a job, with a relationship and a home. There was nothing other than gambling that would indicate a mental illness.”
Under questioning by Mr Nicholls, Professor Gerada alleged that Luke suffered from a gambling disorder, a recognized disease which, based on the odds, directly led to his taking his own life.
He said he had been at high risk of suicide when playing with Betfair.
The inquest, led by Leicester and South Leicestershire coroner Ivan Cartwright, is expected to continue for the rest of the week.
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