Inquest to consider if death of 'happy and healthy 24-year-old' Jack Ritchie was linked to gambling addiction

The parents of a gambling addict who killed himself have said government bodies “do not want to know what killed a perfectly happy and healthy 24-year-old” who was “engaged with products licensed by the state”.

Jack Ritchie, from Sheffield

Charles and Liz Ritchie were speaking after a coroner ruled on what matters can and cannot be included in an inquest into the death of their son Jack, in Hanoi, Vietnam, in November 2017.

Jack Ritchie, who was originally from Sheffield, was working as an English teacher when he died after years of gambling problems, dating back to his teens.

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His parents have spent the last three years arguing that failures on the part of UK authorities to treat gambling issues had contributed to their son’s death, and campaigning for reform through the charity Gambling with Lives.

Senior Sheffield coroner David Urpeth ruled on Friday that a full inquest to be held next year would investigate issues including the state’s provision of medical treatment to Mr Ritchie, and the information available to him and his family about the risks of gambling.

Mr Urpeth said the inquest would include looking at “what is the system of regulation around gambling” and “whether gambling caused or contributed to Jack’s death”.

But the coroner refused a plea from the family’s barrister, Paul Greaney QC, to open the inquest into a wider investigation of the effectiveness of the regulation of the gambling industry in the UK, saying: “The inquest is not a public inquiry and, therefore, it cannot and will not become one in all but name.”

A previous coroner, since retired, ruled last year that the full hearing, which will be held over two weeks in February, will be what is known as an “Article 2 inquest”.

This means that it can examine whether any arm of the state breached its duty to protect Mr Ritchie’s right to life.

Mr Greaney told the three-hour long hearing there was “acute public concern” about the state of gambling regulation.

He said: “The state bodies are seeking to prevent public scrutiny of the full extent of what we contend were their failures.”

Speaking outside Sheffield Town Hall on Friday, Mrs and Mrs Ritchie criticised the Gambling Commission, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department of Health and Social Care for arguing that the inquest should focus only on the immediate circumstances of their son’s death.

Mrs Ritchie said: “We know that Article 2 is engaged, which means the state potentially did not protect Jack’s life. The final inquest will consider the state of regulation and then the coroner will decide if gambling killed Jack.”

She said: “It’s very disappointing for us that the state is still trying to narrow down the inquest as much as possible and doesn’t really want to find out what killed our son.

“It’s so disappointing that the state doesn’t want to know. The DCMS is saying that we really do not want to know what killed a perfectly happy and healthy 24-year-old that’s engaged with products licensed by the state.”

Mr Ritchie said the family had made a lot of progress in its fight to broaden the scope of the inquest.

He said: “We were looking at a 15-minute inquest, we’re so much further ahead.”

He added: “I think the big disappointment is DCMS and the Gambling Commission. They should want to know what threatens the lives of our children – why don’t they?”

The full inquest into Jack Ritchie’s death has been provisionally listed for February 1, 2021.

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James Mitchinson