Gambling addict inquest will not look at betting regulation

An inquest into the death of a 24-year-old gambling addict from Sheffield will not consider government regulation of betting, a coroner has ruled.

Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 18:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 21:05 pm

Jack Ritchie, from Nether Edge, was working as an English teacher in Vietnam when he killed himself on November 22, 2017.

His parents Charles and Liz have told how the 'warm-hearted' Sheffield United fan had been addicted to gambling since he and his friends visited a betting shop near Tapton School, where he was studying, aged just 17.

Jack Ritchie killed himself after becoming addicted to gambling

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They believe too little is being done to tackle the 'epidemic' of gambling addiction in this country, which is why they teamed up with the families of other victims to form the charity Gambling With Lives in an attempt to raise awareness of the dangers.

At a pre-inquest review earlier this year, they argued that failures on the part of UK authorities to treat gambling problems had contributed to their son's death.

Lawyers for the family applied for the full hearing to be held as what is known as an 'Article 2' inquest, which means that its scope could be expanded to examine whether the state, or an arm of the state, breached its duty to protect the citizen's right to life.

Sheffield's senior coroner Chris Dorries today ruled that the matter of regulation was 'too wide a question' for the inquest and it is 'effectively a political matter'.

But, in a written ruling, he said the inquest will include an examination of the the provision of state medical services to Mr Ritchie and will also look at 'the apparent lack of information that might assist families or others to save their loved ones'.

Mr Dorries declared that the question of 'protection' offered by gambling regulation was beyong the scope of the inquest.

"Looking at the matter of such 'protection' as a whole, I am of the view that this is too wide a question for the inquest, it is effectively a political matter," he wrote.

But the coroner went on: "However, what I do find compelling is the argument that the provision of medical or psychiatric services to Mr Ritchie at a time when he arguably could/should have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder was insufficient."

The coroner said whether Mr Ritchie 'received little or no effective support from state services to prevent his gambling addiction' will be a matter for the full inquest, adding 'the evidence available thus far tends to support this contention'.

He continued: "As I made clear at the preliminary hearing, I am deeply cautious of the inquest appearing to become involved in the political aspects of safeguarding potential problem gamblers - for it cannot and must not do so."

"For clarity, I therefore find that it is arguable that Article 2 ECHR is engaged on the basis of two matters: the availability of reasonable medical treatment and the apparent lack of information that might assist families or others to save their loved ones.

At the pre-inquest review earlier this year, Paul Greaney QC, who represented the family, 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.

That hearing was told that Mr Ritchie's addiction started in 2010 and, despite him receiving treatment and being prescribed anti-depressants, the problem worsened.

Mr Ritchie's final email to his parents, sent on the day of his death, read: "The point is, I'm past the point of controlling myself and I'm not coming back from this one."

At the earlier hearing, Adam Farrer, representing the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, argued that it is 'not the role of a coroner' to rule on government policy during a fact-finding inquest.

And Philip Kolvin QC, for the Gambling Commission, said of gambling addiction: "Regulation by its nature does not remove the risk. It adjusts the risk. It moderates the risk in a manner which is considered to allow proportionate balance between the role of many to enjoy the activity, and the protection of those that are vulnerable."