Heartbreaking prison letters show how Sheffield dad's secret gambling addiction ripped family apart
A Sheffield family have released the heartbreaking prison letters which show how they were nearly torn apart by the father’s secret gambling addiction.
David Bradford was jailed in 2014 after stealing to fund his habit, which had left him more than £500,000 in debt. He told his family he was going away on a training course, and his devastated wife and three sons only learned the truth when they read about his conviction in The Star.
Now the 63-year-old former accountant, from Waterthorpe, and his son Adam, aged 26, have released the harrowing letters they exchanged while David was behind bars, in an attempt to prevent gambling destroying more lives.
Their correspondence exposes the brutal realities of prison life, where a man was stabbed to death behind David while he was on the phone.
But it also reveals the anguish of a son struggling to cope with the financial and emotional mess left behind and to comprehend how the loving dad and respected school governor he thought he knew had been leading a double life all these years.
In one passage, David tells how he too is grappling to come to terms with how the ‘proud’ father and husband, as he describes himself, is the same person as the ‘deceitful, dishonest individual not to be trusted’ whose crime landed him in jail.
“For years and years I was swallowed down this tunnel to a point where I could only borrow money to finance the repayments of earlier borrowing - a self-perpetuating, self-defeating spiralling of debt,” he writes elsewhere,
"While all this tense money mismanagement was consuming my soul my 'real' life continued. I became a father to a wonderful son who was so keen to enter this world he came nine weeks early."
He continues: “The atmosphere of my life was turning very sour and yet I still was not brave enough to openly admit the absolutely devastating money mess I was burying myself in.
“But the atmosphere can be sourer, more putrid, and in my dark side this was the natural course to take – fraud!”
Replying, Adam tells how back home ‘everything is just chaos’, with debt collectors having been to pick up the family car, people pointing and laughing at him in the street and a doctor prescribing him antidepressants.
“You said that your past is buried in your mind but to be honest it is us who are unlocking all the secrets,” he writes.
“Mum is distraught and it’s a daily battle to try and avoid the ‘gambling’ conversation. There’s only me wrestling all your debt collectors. I don’t know how you managed to hide all this.”
But he says he is ready to rebuild the bridges that have been burned, writing ‘even though I think you’ve been stupid, somehow I couldn’t have had a better dad’.
And he describes his fears for his father, adding: “I heard what you told us on the phone when a man was stabbed to death behind you. Thank God you're okay but every day we don't get a call my heart sinks.”
David and Adam recently launched the Safer Online Gambling group in an attempt to help the estimated 430,000 gambling addicts in the UK and more than two million other people at risk of developing a problem.
The duo have welcomed recent developments, like plans for the NHS to open new gambling addiction clinics, slashing the maximum stake on addictive slot machines and the announcement of £100 million of extra industry funding for research, education and treatment.
But they say more must be done to prevent families like theirs enduring the anguish which still affects them.
Adam said: “It was a difficult decision to release these letters, because they’re so personal, but it’s important to show the bloodshed and hurt a family experiences as a result of gambling addiction.
“What happened could have wrecked our family but we stuck together and tried to used our experience to help other people. We decided we weren’t going to let ourselves be bullied by a multi-billion pound industry.
“Our work’s starting to pay off but it will never be done. What we need now is a gambling clinic in every city in the country, a complete ban on gambling adverts before 9pm and proper affordability checks for online gambling to ensure people aren’t spending money they don’t have.”
David said he would be ‘forever in debt’ to his family for giving him a second chance and was now focused on preventing people who are ‘heading in the same direction as I ended up’ from destroying their lives.