Friday 15 December 2017

'I could see Gary on the stairs... he was hanging there' -- wife

Speed inquest told of row on last night and suicide text

Louise Speed leaving Warrington Coroner's Court after the inquest yesterday. Photo: PA
Louise Speed leaving Warrington Coroner's Court after the inquest yesterday. Photo: PA
Gary Speed and his wife Louise

Jim White and Nigel Bunyan

FOOTBALL manager Gary Speed died some time after 1am on November 27, 2011. Why he did so, however, remains utterly baffling, an inquest heard yesterday.

Even after an exhaustive police inquiry and a public inquest, no one -- not even the Cheshire county coroner -- has a clue as to why a man with so much to live for, a man apparently secure in his professional life, a man surrounded by those who loved and admired him, would take his own life. Or even whether he finally intended to do so.

The inquest into Speed's death was held yesterday in the stately Warrington Town Hall, a Palladian mansion.

Coroner Nicholas Rheinberg said his purpose was to establish beyond doubt what had happened.

He began by reading written evidence supplied by those who best knew the deceased.

There was the doctor at his former club Sheffield United who wrote that Speed had "shown none of the resentment" he had witnessed in other footballers obliged by injury to stop playing.

There was, the doctor added, absolutely no hint of mental health issues in his history.

Next was Speed's good friend Alan Shearer who had seen him the day before he died, when the pair had made plans to meet up the following weekend.

"Of all the people I know," Shearer said, "Gary was the last I could imagine doing something like this."

And then there was Speed's mother, Carol, who described her son as a "glass half-empty person" and whose maternal affection sang through her testimony. Looking back, she had tried to pinpoint retrospective evidence of inner torment.

She had studied the footage of his television appearance the day before he died. It wasn't like Gary to go on camera without a shave, she said. And his smile looked a bit forced: it didn't go to his eyes, as it always did. Even so, she simply could not understand why he had done it, not when he loved his family so much. And his dogs.

Then, Mr Rheinberg called on Speed's wife Louise to give verbal witness.

Calm, clear, dignified, she agreed that their relationship had been strained by the demands, responsibilities and constant travel involved in his job as Wales manager.

"He was a private man in a public role," she said.

But they had determined to work through their issues.

She told how he sent her a text message suggesting he might commit suicide days before he was found hanging in the garage of their home.

Even though the mention of suicide had taken her by surprise, she was certain he was only raising the idea quickly to dismiss it.

He had concluded their spat by talking of "moving forward" and of the "importance of the boys to him".

She said that on the night he died he was back "on top form" -- as the couple attended a dinner party near their home.

Their two teenage sons were asleep when they returned in a taxi shortly before 1am but the couple began arguing.

"We walked in the house and had words about something or nothing", said Mrs Speed. "I can't even remember what it was about.


"At that point I suggested I would go for a drive. He blocked the back door and said, 'You're not going anywhere.'

"I went upstairs and lay on the bed for five or 10 minutes. Then I decided I would go for the drive to clear my head and for space to think.

"I didn't go very far -- just to the top of the road, where I parked the car. Then I thought, 'This is silly.' I drove back."

Mrs Speed could not get into the house so she rang her husband's mobile but he failed to answer. She spent the night in her car and when she tried again to get into the house she noticed that some keys to the garage were not in their usual place.

"I went around the back of the garage," she said. "I could see Gary on the stairs. He was hanging there. His toes were in contact with the step, but it was just his toes."

Mrs Speed woke her sons to let her in the house and called the emergency services but her husband could not be revived.

Former Wales international manager Speed left no note, no hint was uncovered in a search of his computer or mobile phone records of a possible motive, there had been no outward change in his demeanour.

There was no history of depression; at the time of his death, the alcohol in his system was only marginally above the legal driving limit. Of the lurid rumours which had besmirched the internet, there was no jot of evidence.

When asked if she could think of any reason he might act in this way, Louise Speed shook her head slowly and whispered, "No".

Nicholas Rheinberg, the Cheshire coroner, recorded a narrative verdict after deciding it was impossible to determine whether Speed, who had drunk only a "moderate" amount of alcohol, had intended to end his life.

He may have sat on the staircase for some time with the ligature around his neck.

It was possible he fell asleep, causing it to tighten, the coroner said.

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