'Government should be held responsible for death of Sheffield teacher because it failed to control addictive gambling'

Government agencies should be held responsible for the death of a Sheffield teacher because they failed to control addictive gambling, his family has claimed.

Friday, 28th June 2019, 2:44 pm
Updated Friday, 28th June 2019, 4:00 pm
Jack Ritchie

Gambling addict Jack Ritchie, of Nether Edge, who had been fighting an addiction to gambling since the age of 17, took his own life in Hanoi, Vietnam, in November 2017.

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A pre-inquest review into the death of the English teacher, who was working in Vietnam, heard it was arguable that failures on the part of UK authorities to treat gambling problems had contributed to his death.

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Paul Greaney QC, representing the family during the hearing at Sheffield Coroner's Court, likened the effects of the addiction to those of smoking, saying that it is "not fanciful" to suggest that the state could be held to account for Mr Ritchie's death.

He said that authorities had been aware of the risks from the gambling methods that the teacher was using, such as fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) - which are effectively electronic gambling machines - and online gambling.

Mr Ritchie's parents, Charles and Liz Ritchie, have asked that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to life - be engaged in his inquest.

This would have the effect of enhancing the inquest, and happens when the state is considered to have potentially breached its duty to protect the citizen's right to life.

Making the case for such an inquest, Mr Greaney said: "It is, we suggest, a bold submission to argue that gambling, particularly on FOBTs and online, does not lead to a risk to life."

Discussing the state's general protective obligation under Article 2, he said: "We submit that it is not fanciful to suggest that a breach of that obligation led to Jack's death due to the clear evidence that his gambling addiction was implicated in his death."

Mr Greaney said it was arguable that authorities had fallen short in terms of the regulation of the industry, treatment for addiction, the implementation of preventative measures, and the passing over of information to the vulnerable.

He said: "Everyone today knows that smoking kills. Even today, how many members of the public know that gambling, particularly on FOBTs and online, kills as well?"

Mr Ritchie’s parents have  joined with relatives of other young victims of gambling addition around the country to launch the pressure group Gambling With Lives, which is working to raise awareness of the dangers and push for changes to protect those at risk.

Mr Greaney said they considered there was evidence of a longstanding link between gambling addiction and suicide, which the state was aware of before Jack died.

He said the key proposed questions for the inquest would be: "Was regulation of the gambling sector adequate? Was treatment provision for those suffering with gambling addiction adequate? Was adequate information provided to the public?"

Mr Greaney said that Mr Ritche’s addiction started in 2010, when he used his "dinner money" and a £5,000 gift to lose £8,000.

Despite receiving treatments and being prescribed anti-depressants, the problem worsened after he left university and started work.

He said he saw a private therapist, attended Gamblers Anonymous and received outpatient support through the NHS, but treatments did not tackle the addiction. He moved to Hanoi on August 24, 2017, and emailed his parents on November 19 stating: "I'm having a bit of a bad time and I feel I need to return home for at least a few days."

The court heard how it was later revealed that he had lost £2,000 gambling online, and only stopped when he reached the £1,500 overdraft limit on his bank account.

Despite agreeing to install anti-gambling software, Mr Ritchie's final email to his parents, sent on the day of his death on November 22, 2017, read: "It's happening all over again.

"I have not installed the software and I have been gambling all day. Incredibly, I have won all the money back and lost it again.

"I'm past the point of controlling myself and I'm not coming back from this one.

A consultant adult psychiatrist, Mr Greaney said, reported Mr Ritchie suffered a "longstanding disorder which was present since his teens and had worsened over seven years".

He said the psychiatrist had argued that the support given by "state agents was insufficient to meet his clinical needs".