Two leading bookmakers helped a severely disabled gambling addict fill out betting slips as he squandered his compensation from a botched operation, it has been claimed.
Lawyers for Liam McCarron say that Ladbrokes Coral and Paddy Power failed to intervene over more than three years as his losses reached at least £500,000.
McCarron had been a successful businessman until 2007, when he sustained “catastrophic” injuries during a medical procedure, leading to permanent and severe impairment of his movement and speech.
In a letter seen by the Guardian, McCarron’s lawyers say it should have been obvious to both companies that he was a vulnerable person who could not have been earning a salary and was likely to be gambling beyond his means.
According to the claim, which has been forwarded to the Gambling Commission, staff at Ladbrokes were aware that he was using the diminishing proceeds of a one-off payout, writing in internal notes in 2014 that he had “received substantial compensation”.
But they allegedly failed to take proper steps to address his gambling disorder until 2017, when staff at Ladbrokes’ sister company, Coral, asked him to fill out a form proving his source of funds. He was unable to do so because he would have required the help of his wife, who was not aware of the extent of his gambling losses.
By the time McCarron was eventually barred from gambling, he had lost an estimated £500,000.
Lawyers at Ellis Jones say that a timely intervention would have prevented this and they are seeking the restitution of his losses and compensation for the effect on his personal life, pointing to two suicide attempts and the breakup of his marriage.
Both companies have so far said that they did not do anything wrong.
Responding to questions through a family member, McCarron said: “It has had an enormous impact on me. There is the obvious financial impact, in that the money I used to gamble was intended to be for my ongoing living costs and care needs, which are significant.
“The impact goes way beyond finances, though, as it has caused irreparable damage to my family relationships. On top of that, I feel that I have lost my dignity and self-respect.”
The case, which is being examined by the Gambling Commission, has left MPs shocked. Carolyn Harris, who chairs a cross-party group of MPs examining gambling-related harm, said: “Disability should not stop someone enjoying the activities they love, including gambling. But in this case, it ought to have been clear to these bookmakers that Mr McCarron could not afford to bet so much money.
“They should have intervened, but instead they kept on taking his money for years. The fact that he was using compensation from an operation that has affected his life so badly is all the more tragic.”
Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, said: “It’s absolutely unbelievable that predatory gambling companies were able to get away with exploiting a vulnerable person for years in this way. All businesses have a duty of care to their customers and gambling companies have a specific duty to protect the vulnerable.
“It’s clear that the system isn’t working. The government must now bring forward an urgent and broad review of the 2005 Gambling Act, as was promised in the manifesto, as soon as possible.”
Paddy Power declined to comment.
A spokesperson for GVC, which owns Ladbrokes Coral, said: “While we are legally unable to comment on the specifics of individual, historic cases, we can demonstrate that positive steps have been taken and continue to be taken in these and similar circumstances.
“This includes proactively interacting with, and providing advice and support to, customers who may show potential signs of problematic play, and intervening where appropriate, including asking customers for more information to ensure that their betting is sustainable.
“Protecting those who may be at risk and ensuring customer safety continues to be a key priority for GVC.”
The Gambling Commission does not comment on individual cases.