Jack Ritchie death: gambling addiction began as teenager, inquest hears

English teacher who took his own life in 2017 began using fixed-odds betting terminals while in the sixth form

A 24-year-old English teacher developed a chronic gambling addiction that started with betting small amounts on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) when he was in the sixth form, an inquest into his death has heard.

Jack Ritchie, a Hull university history graduate, took his own life while teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam, in November 2017.

His parents, Charles and Liz Ritchie, from Sheffield, argue that government failures contributed to their son’s death in that he was hooked on “products licensed by the state”.

The inquest examining Ritchie’s death is believed by his parents to be the first so-called article 2 inquest in a case relating to suicide after gambling. That means its scope will include an examination of whether any arm of the state breached its duty to protect their son’s right to life.

On Monday, the opening day, a witness statement from Ritchie’s childhood friend Nick Clough was read. He described going with Ritchie to betting shops when they were aged 16 or 17 and spending small amounts on the machines. Ritchie’s intention was to double his money “to get a free lunch”.

But he added: “With Jack it became more than that.”

A trigger moment was when Ritchie won £1,000 in less than 30 seconds, a win that changed his attitude to gambling as he began chasing his losses and looking for the big win.

Charles and Liz Ritchie arrive at Sheffield town hall for start of an inquest into the death of their son Jack.
Charles and Liz Ritchie arrive at Sheffield town hall for start of an inquest into the death of their son Jack. Photograph: Dave Higgens/PA

Other witness evidence read to the inquest described how no one had realised the extent of Ritchie’s problems until he had taken his own life.

Forensic evidence presented to the inquest showed he was a regular visitor to the BetVictor online gambling website in the days leading up to his death.

The inquest at Sheffield town hall opened with a video montage of happy moments from Ritchie’s life.

His father described him as a “fine young man on the threshold of his life” who “brightened the lives of everyone around him”.

Charles and Liz Ritchie have campaigned for reform of gambling legislation through a charity, Gambling With Lives, that they helped set up.

The couple believe an undiagnosed gambling disorder lay behind their son’s death and argue there were no public health warnings about the risk to life posed by gambling products. Their son was not diagnosed or offered treatment that linked his symptoms to gambling disorder, they say.

The coroner David Urpeth said the evidence at the hearing, expected to last two weeks, would cover topics including what information was available to Ritchie and his family about the risks of gambling and also what medical treatment was available to him.

Urpeth said that his examination of how Ritchie died would include “whether gambling caused or contributed to his death”.

The coroner said he understood that the family wanted the scope of the inquest to be an even wider analysis of government gambling policy and told them: “I do not want the family to think I am disinterested in their wider concerns. It’s just that such concerns are beyond the power invested in me.”

Officials from the Gambling Commission and the Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are among those expected to give evidence at the inquest.

Charles Ritchie previously told the Guardian that he had discovered his son’s addiction when he was 18. He promptly took him into every betting shop in Sheffield, where Jack Ritchie left a photograph and signed a form that would exclude him from placing bets there. But his addiction simply transferred online.

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

  • Anyone concerned about their gambling, or that of a loved one, can visit BeGambleAware.org for free, confidential advice and support. The National Gambling Helpline is available on 0808 8020 133 and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Mark Brown North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Inquest into suicide of gambling addict will explore if UK state failed him
Parents of Jack Ritchie succeed in widening inquest to look at support for addicts and industry regulation

Helen Pidd North of England editor

25, Sep, 2020 @5:48 PM

Article image
Isolation will fuel gambling addiction. We must protect those at risk | Carolyn Harris
For so many businesses, quarantine means a downturn. Not for the online gaming industry, warns Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East

Carolyn Harris

27, Mar, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Gambling watchdog under fire over betting firms' role in addiction taskforce
Companies are ‘marking their own homework’ by being part of working groups, say critics

Rob Davies

24, Jan, 2020 @1:10 PM

Article image
Gambling: ministers urged to be bold with curbs on FOBTs
Report from consultation on slashing maximum bet from £100 to £2 to close on Tuesday

Peter Walker Political correspondent

21, Jan, 2018 @4:03 PM

Article image
Ban credit cards for online gambling, says government review
Levy on firms for addiction treatment among gambling regulation advice

Rob Davies

23, Jan, 2018 @10:00 PM

Article image
FOBTs row: minister quit over claim pro-gambling MP secured delay
Tracey Crouch ‘furious’ over private meeting between culture secretary and Philip Davies

Rob Davies

02, Nov, 2018 @10:37 PM

Article image
New UK rules to stop problem gambling won't work, campaigners say
From this week betting shops must share information on addicts who have ‘self-excluded’ themselves from bookmakers

Randeep Ramesh

04, Apr, 2016 @4:00 PM

Article image
'He haemorrhaged money': the bereaved parents taking on the gambling industry
Ryan Myers killed himself after struggling with a gambling addiction. Now, his family are fighting adverts that lure people back in

Jamie Grierson

15, Jul, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Impose strict curbs on gambling during Covid-19 lockdown, MPs urge
Industry’s proposals are ‘weak’ and government must act to help those at risk, group says

Rob Davies

03, Apr, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
UK gambling-related hospital admissions up to more than one a day
NHS figures show 28% rise in number of people admitted for disorders linked to betting

Mattha Busby

24, Dec, 2019 @12:47 PM