6:30am Friday 12th April 2013
By Gavin Engelbrecht
A WORKER at a notorious North-East suicide spot watched helplessly when a man handed him two envelopes for safekeeping and calmly jumped to his death.
In a tragic irony the worker had been erecting barriers to prevent further suicide attempts when Owen Roberts leapt 175ft to his death at the Hownsgill viaduct, in Castleside, near Consett.
When the envelopes were opened they were found to contain suicide notes written by Mr Roberts before his death on February 2.
Yesterday an inquest in Crook heard how the 38-year-old's depression had escaled when he was moved to an open-plan office.
A piece of paper found at his house with a Consett post code and the name of a pub close to the landmark, known locally as Gill Bridge, suggested he had been researching the location.
County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle ruled Mr Roberts of Western Way, Ryton, Gateshead, had taken his own life.
Mr Roberts’ father, David Roberts, demanded to know why work on safety measures had not been carried out earlier on the viaduct, given its reputation.
And he asked why Mr Tweddle had not used his powers to under coroners’ regulations to bring the matter to the attention of the authorities. Mr Tweddle said he had not thought it appropriate.
Speaking after the hearing, Douglas Johnston said on the day of the tragedy he was working on the viaduct, where special barriers were being installed to prevent people jumping off.
He said: “I had got to Hownsgill viaduct early and was laying the the posts out when Mr Roberts approached me.
“He asked me if we were finished with the work. I said no. He just gave me the two envelopes.
“I thought he was just going to fasten his hood up. But he took two steps along, climbed over the steel railings and just dived over.
“There was nothing I could do. I was in my machine and couldn’t get out quickly. I looked over and he wasn’t moving.
“It took only 20 seconds, but it felt like a long time. He seemed a canny lad.”
Giving evidence earlier, Detective Sergeant Steve Millward said: “Mr Roberts suffered from depression and anxiety. The picture painted to me was that he couldn’t cope with modern life and stress or change.
“The critical thing on this occasion would be his being moved to an open-plan office. He wasn’t comfortable with it. That seems to have escalated his anxiety and depression.”
DS Millward said the notes Mr Roberts had left gave a clear indication he was troubled at the time and indicated he was considering harming himself.
He added: “They were quite considered. They weren’t the scribbling of an irrational person.”
In written evidence Durham County Council said that work was being undertaken to reduce the risk of people jumping off the viaduct.
Terry Collins, corporate director for neighbourhood services, said: “We were very sad to learn of this recent incident and would like to offer our condolences.
“Safety on this popular viaduct is paramount for the council but as it is a listed structure, it has taken some time to arrange for the necessary work to be carried out.
“Working with the NHS, we already have notices in place which highlight a number to call for help.
“Together with our health partners we have considered all means of reducing the number of tragedies at this location and, after assessing various options with English Heritage, have developed a bespoke fencing barrier to help to prevent people from using this site for such sad purposes. This is currently being installed.”
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