Farmer kills himself as protests mount

PUBLISHED: 10:21 04 February 2008 | UPDATED: 08:20 02 June 2010

Richard Herbert

Richard Herbert

A FARMER killed himself as protests mounted over plans to build a wind farm in the Fens, a court heard last week. Richard Herbert, 47, felt friends had been turned against him and could not understand why villagers in Marshland St James were opposed to th

A FARMER killed himself as protests mounted over plans to build a wind farm in the Fens, a court heard last week.

Richard Herbert, 47, felt friends had been turned against him and could not understand why villagers in Marshland St James were opposed to the renewable energy plan.

Hundreds had attended a public meeting just weeks before his death, vandals had felled a test mast put up to check wind speeds in the area and farmers involved in the proposals had been sent letters threatening them with legal action.

Father-of-three Mr Herbert was found in the Middle Level Drain at Neeps Bridge, near his home at St John's Fen End, on May 21.

A heavy weight had been tied to his body and a post mortem showed he died from downing, a coroner's inquest sitting in King's Lynn was told.

Norfolk coroner William Armstrong last Thursday recorded a verdict of suicide whilst suffering extreme anxiety and agitated depression, adding there was no doubt Mr Herbert intended to end his life.

"If Richard had been a more selfish and unscrupulous person, he would be alive today," he said. "He was affected by opposition to this scheme to the point where it took over his life completely. He couldn't see a way out, it was a very tragic situation."

Mr Herbert had become part of a consortium of landowners who hoped to build a wind farm near Marshland St James, the court was told.

His wife Juliet said in the weeks before his death, he became increasingly upset as opposition to the plan mounted in the village.

"He was completely devastated about it, he couldn't believe how many people were against it and he took it all on his own shoulders," she said.

"His whole life seemed to be focussed on the wind farm at that point, there was nothing we could do or say to reassure him that everything would be OK."

Mrs Herbert said her husband saw his GP on a number of occasions in late April and early May, and began expressing suicidal thoughts.

"He was saying he was going to do things like drive the farm truck into the drain, things like that," she said. "He kept going through lots of different ways."

On May 15, Mr Herbert was admitted to the Fermoy Unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. But by the following weekend, he appeared to be improving and was allowed home on the understanding he would return to the unit the following Monday for further assessment.

Mrs Herbert said her husband became agitated on the Sunday night, fearing if he were re-admitted to the Fermoy, he might not be allowed back out. She broke down as she described waking early the following morning to find he had gone.

Peter Butterworth, a nurse with Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Partnership, assessed Mr Herbert after he was admitted to the Fermoy.

"He was very agitated, very pre-occupied with the wind farm issues and the impact that would have on him and his family," he said.

"He felt he had a duty to follow through the wind farm in support of his family but he also thought he had a duty to the community."

Psychiatrist Dr Mary Whalley said Mr Herbert had no previous history of psychiatric problems. She added: "He was completely surprised by the opposition. He felt people no longer liked him and his life changed forever."

In his summing up, Mr Armstrong said Mr Herbert and his brothers hoped to build a wind farm for the good of the wider community as well as their own families.

"But a campaign was launched against the scheme, feelings were running high, meetings were held and all this caused Richard to become extremely stressed indeed," he said. "People he thought were his friends were turning against him.

"There can be no doubt that when Richard went into the water he did not intend to survive. He intended to bring his life to an end, he was suffering a state of extreme anxiety and agitated depression.

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