Coroner’s warning over antiDEPRESSANT drugs

Date: Friday 4th April 2008

THE threat of foot and mouth disease returning in 2007 prompted an Eden farmer to hang himself, an inquest heard this week. Philip Hugh Morton, aged 56, of The Sycamores, Gamblesby, was found dead in a grain loft at his farm in November.

The inquest in to his death was held by South and East Cumbria coroner Ian Smith at Penrith Magistrates’ Court on Thursday. He recorded a verdict that Mr. Morton had “died as a consequence of his own actions whilst suffering from a severe mental illness”.

He also criticised the use of antidepressants and expressed concerns over a pattern of people taking their own lives days after being prescribed the drugs.

Giving evidence at the hearing Mr. Morton’s wife, Jean, said he had been depressed during 2001 when the foot and mouth outbreak had resulted in his sheep being culled despite not having the disease.

Following a period of time he recovered, but, in 2007, foot and mouth returned in part of the country and that triggered his depression again. Mr. Morton went to his doctor and was prescribed antidepressant drugs which he was taking at the time of his death days later.

The inquest heard that Mr. Morton had been found by his nephew, Henry Morton, and that both paramedics and police were called to the farm.

Mr. Smith said: “The situation goes back to 2001 when the awful scourge of foot and mouth was in the country and it very clearly affected Mr. Morton very badly to the extent it caused his depression.

“There is no evidence to suggest depression before he lost his sheep as a result of the cull, but the effects of that awful time are still being felt now.”

Mr. Smith said that Mr. Morton had been from a farming family and had farmed in Gamblesby all his life after it was passed down the generations. He added that when Mr. Morton got depression, due to the spectacle of foot and mouth returning in another part of the country, he had been taken over by depression which had governed his actions.

“It is not something Mr. Morton would have done in the light of day and although he did from his own actions it was whilst he was suffering a severe mental illness,” said the coroner. “Foot and mouth is still having reverberations now and probably will for a number of years.”

Mr. Smith went on to say that he had dealt with six to eight cases in a short period where people had taken their lives days after starting antidepressant drugs and he had reported these concerns to the health authorities despite coming under criticism for speaking out.