A devastated widow has claimed her husband was driven to suicide after being enticed by free online betting offers while on furlough, an inquest has heard.
Luke Ashton, 40, travelled more than 100 miles from his family home in Leicester to take his own life in a flat in Swinton, South Yorkshire, on April 22.
His devastated wife Annie, 39, blames the tragedy on online betting firms whose apps lure punters in by offering free bets, the inquest at Leicester Town Hall was told.
Assistant coroner for Leicester City and South Leicestershire, Dianne Hocking, told the inquest, which opened on Thursday and was adjourned, that the father-of-two was identified by his fingerprints.
Mrs Ashton, who is a primary school teacher, said his death came just four months after he was sent an email from an unnamed online betting firm offering him a free bet.
Luke Ashton (pictured with wife Annie), 40, travelled more than 100 miles from his family home in Leicester to take his own life in a flat in Swinton, South Yorkshire, on April 22
‘Two months ago today my husband took his own life,’ she said in an emotional YouTube video taken earlier this summer to show the dangers of online gambling.
‘Like anyone in this situation, you’ve got so many questions as to why.
‘I did have a suspicion, but it wasn’t until about two or three weeks ago, when I got his phone back from the police that it was there in plain view. Luke had developed a gambling addiction.’
It wasn’t the first time that Mr Ashton had been enticed into online gambling, but Mrs Ashton claimed that he had cleared all his debts and steered away from gambling for two years until the Covid lockdown hit.
Mr Ashton, who his friends have described as being witty and loyal, and an avid Leicester City fan, initially came across a betting scheme where punters can lay odds on horses losing, rather than winning, races, according to his wife.
‘Luke thought he was going to earn some money from that, but he ended up actually losing quite a bit of money,’ she said.
‘It destroyed him, it really did, because he then ended up with some debt.’
She said the couple paid off their debts in 2019, but claimed that Mr Ashton had received an unsolicited message from an unknown online betting firm, offering him a free bet, while he was furloughed from his job as a printer in lockdown.
Mrs Ashton said her husband had found it difficult to be on furlough as he was an ‘absolute grafter’ and would always work the extra hours ‘to take care of his family’.
But as he had more time on his hands, Mrs Ashton said he took the initial free bet and won ‘quite a bit of money’, but then put the cash back into online gambling.
She added: ‘He did win a few times, but with the wins there are always the losses – and the losses always outweigh the wins.
His devastated wife Annie (pictured), 39, blames the tragedy on online betting firms whose apps lure punters in by offering free bets
‘He was then chasing those losses, and got some loans out – and those loans disappeared because they just went into that company’s pocket.
‘He then took out other loans – and he, basically, lost control.’
Her husband’s mental health had continued to unravel, with Mrs Ashton saying that he would not have wanted to tell her what had happened as he was ‘ashamed’.
She continued: ‘I think, in his head, he just did not know what else he could do.
‘For me, it’s not logical what he’s done but in his head it was – he must have felt so low.’
Mrs Ashton claimed that it was only after his death, when the police returned his phone, that she accessed his accounts and learnt about the extent of his gambling.
Mrs Ashton previously said: ‘I went weeks asking myself why, and then I went on to his Betfair account – there’s why. That’s where the anger and the upset has come from.
‘It all hit me at once, there’s nothing I can say to describe it. It was just wow – this is really serious, it’s harmful, and yet it’s advertised as fun.’
Records previously showed that Betfair’s app offered Mr Ashton cash bonuses, including seven in the six weeks before he died. The final offer, a £5 bonus, came the evening before he went missing.
Mr Ashton had set up a Betfair account several years before his death and had opted out of receiving direct marketing by email or text. The offers he received were available to all customers, the company previously said.
A Flutter spokesperson said: ‘Our deepest sympathies are with Mr Ashton’s family and friends at this sad time.
‘We have invested significantly in our safer gambling measures and make it as easy as possible for customers to opt-out of marketing if it’s something they no longer want to receive.’
The inquest was adjourned while further investigations into the circumstances are carried out. A review hearing was set for January 6, next year.
Mrs Ashton has launched a UK Parliament petition calling on the Government to ban free bets, which she is calling Luke’s Law and has already gathered more than 15,000 signatures.
If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will force a debate to be held on the issue in the House of Commons.
‘For someone like Luke, he wasn’t able to talk and didn’t feel he was able to talk about his mental health and what he’d done,’ said Mrs Ashton, who is also calling for an end to betting firm adverts during live sport on TV.
Mrs Ashton has launched a petition calling on the Government to ban free bets, which she is calling Luke’s Law and has already gathered more than 15,000 signatures (stock image)
‘There are many men out there, as we know, that are the same and, for those people, prevention is better than a cure.
‘There is absolutely no reason why these free bets should even exist.’
‘I’ve called it Luke’s Law, in honour of my husband,’ she added. ‘I want to do something that’s going to help someone out there, and I really do believe that it will.’
It comes after Flutter, which owns Paddy Power, Betfair, and Sky Bet, reported this month that losses by its UK and Irish punters jumped by a third to £1.1billion in the first six months of 2021.
The figure helped its profits rocket to £77million compared to £24million in the same period last year – which was then a record.
Outraged MPs and campaigners fighting gambling addiction said Flutter was cashing in on the ‘distress and suffering’ of vulnerable punters and called on the Government to take radical action.
Last week, industry watchdog the Gambling Commission put out a fresh warning to betting firms to be ‘extra vigilant’ because consumers are ‘vulnerable’ as Covid restrictions are lifted and family finances remain under pressure.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairman of the parliamentary group battling gambling harm, said: ‘I am worried the pandemic has created a new pandemic of gambling addiction.’
She added: ‘Now is the time for the industry to be held to account for the misery and devastation that they cause to the lives of vulnerable people.’
If your family has been bereaved by gambling-related suicide, specialist support is available at www.gamblingwithlives.org, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123, or go to www.samaritans.org.