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"Suicide" verdict on reporter

A Burton Mail reporter who died when he was hit by a train at Clay Mills, near Burton-on-Trent, committed suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed, an inquest jury has decided.

Richard Wood, who was the Mail’s longest-serving reporter, had spoken of throwing himself under a train before his death, an inquest heard.

Mr Wood (49), of Byrkley Street, Burton, had been on anti-depressants, had twice taken overdoses and had spent several spells at Burton’s Margaret Stanhope psychiatric unit.

A jury at Stafford Crown Court was also told how he had suffered problems with a new computer system introduced at work and had talked of money worries.

Mr Wood was hit by a Virgin CrossCountry passenger train on a 90mph stretch of track half-a-mile away from an unmanned level crossing just before 8pm on February 10 this year.

The inquest heard that Mr Wood, known as “Dickie” to his friends, had been a highly regarded, popular and well-known man with a natural instinct for journalism but led a solitary life.

His sister, Patricia Hunt, said in a written statement that Mr Wood had called her husband one day last year to ask him to tell her “it was not her fault”.

She said she had later been contacted by British Transport Police saying Mr Wood had been in a near miss with a train at Branston level crossing. He had also taken an overdose of paracetamol last summer and had told his sister he wanted to die.

Mrs Hunt said her brother, who later took a second overdose, had had a bank loan of £10,000 and credit card debt of £3,500 and, on the day of his death, had told her he had no money.

She said he had talked of a trip to Manchester three weeks before his death as a “final fling” before “ending it” and had said he would throw himself under a train.

The Mail’s managing director, Jim Black, said in a written statement that he thought the death four years earlier of Mr Wood’s father, Tom, with whom he had lived, might have affected him.

The inquest heard that Mr Wood, who joined the Mail straight from school in 1966 as a linotype operator, had been absent from work for 174 days over a 12-month period.

It was thought a rehabilitation period of working as a reporter might help spur on Mr Wood, who had been working as a sub-editor before being signed off work as unfit.

However, Mr Black said Mr Wood was not as he had been before and in January had been invited to apply for early retirement on the grounds of ill health or to come back to work if he became fit again.

Mr Wood had asked for early retirement but died before a decision had been taken on the matter by the newspaper’s pension fund trustees.

Sub-editor Corry Granger said Mr Wood had told her he was worried about money and had also taken the introduction of a new computer system at work very badly.

She said they had had a week’s training on the system but said the pressure had been “horrendous” and the first week it went live had been “awful”. Mr Wood had described it to her as the worst thing that had ever happened to him.

He took an overdose at about that time and Mrs Granger said that when she had talked to him he told her he was not afraid of dying and could jump under a train.

She said he seemed to have lost confidence, enthusiasm and interest. He had also described his early retirement to her as being “sacked”.

She said: “He had got it into his head they had sacked him and of course the Burton Mail was his life. That was the way he read it: the Burton Mail was being taken away from him.”

At the time of Mr Wood’s death it had been pitch black and train driver Elvin Bitchell said he had heard a bang on the front of the train and knew he had hit something but had no idea at the time what it was.

He reduced speed immediately and stopped at the first available signal to contact signalmen at Derby.

A statement was also read out from fisherman Gary Peace, who had been in the area that afternoon and saw a man standing on the railway track over a period of about three hours.

Expressing his sympathy to the family, coroner Reginald Browning said: “It makes it more poignant when it is a young man who had such a promising future.”