Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Clerical officer found hanged on day he was due to return to work from sick leave, inquest hears

Mark Smith
Mark Smith

A woman whose husband took his own life because of work stress has described him as the gentlest, kindest, most loving man she has ever met.

Mark Smith took his own life on July 23 last year on the same day he was due to go back to work.

An inquest into his death at Armagh courthouse on Thursday heard Mr Smith was under pressure with his job as clerical officer at Avondale Foods since a computer system was introduced in 2011.

The court heard he was initially the subject of a missing persons investigation when he did not show up to work but was later found hanged by a police dog.

The court heard he suffered a breakdown shortly before his death when he left work at lunchtime on May 16 last year.

He was later found passed out in his vehicle in the car park of Craigavon Area Hospital.

After this he went off on sick leave and Avondale Foods assigned him an occupational health nurse Jill Scott.

Ms Scott told the court that when she visited Mr Smith in his home he appeared nervous and complained of insomnia, panic attacks and loss of concentration.

When asked if Avondale Foods asked her to map a way forward or sought her advice about the best way for Mr Smith to return to work she replied, "No".

But the court heard his GP devised a back-to-work strategy, prescribed him antidepressant drug Fluoxetine and put him on the waiting list for therapy.

Mr Smith's former colleague Ethel Thornberry told the court that he complained of stress and headaches on a regular basis and asked for help "continually".

"I noticed a change in him, he was under a lot of pressure." Mr Smith's manager Judith Reid told the court she attended a meeting with him on July 17 last year to discuss his plans to return to work a week later.

She said: "He had lost weight but appeared happy enough.

"We left the meeting on good terms. When he said he wasn't sleeping I was concerned that he wasn't ready to return to work and I was expecting him not to show up on Monday," she said.

She added that he had only complained to her about stress on two occasions – once when the new computer system was being set up and again when he "did the disappearing act from the office".

The family gasped at Ms Reid's use of the term "disappearing act".

Ethel Thornberry also alleged that Ms Reid had called both her and Mr Smith "f******".

When Coroner Jim Kitson asked if this was true she replied: "No. I curse when I am stressed but I would never demean someone like that."

Ms Reid also told the court that on the night he died his wife Joan phoned her, asking: "I just want to know, 'are you happy now'?"

Mr Kitson told the inquest he was satisfied Mr Smith took his own life "due to stress he could not cope with or manage".

"It appears his employers were not overly concerned the stress was unmanageable. I offer my sincere condolences," he added.

Speaking afterwards Mr Smith's wife and parents hoped his story would prevent the same thing from happening to others.

Joan Smith said: "I am happy with this result. We are planning to take matters further to see just how much to blame this company is for Mark's death."

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