A dad tragically set himself alight in the family home after losing his battle with mental health problems, an inquest has heard.

‘Fun-loving’ Gareth Brookes, 56, was well-known in the scooter and music community of Rochdale .

He worked as a labourer and was father to two children with partner Michelle Ashworth.

But sadly he suffered from depression and anxiety for many years before his death in a fire on Kirklee Road, Castleton, on Monday, October 29, last year.

Following a three-day hearing, Coroner Catherine McKenna concluded that Gareth set the fire deliberately while he was experiencing psychotic symptoms.

He told his family: “I need to burn the house down and get the evil out.”

An inquest at Rochdale Coroner’s Court heard that in the months leading up to the incident Gareth’s mental health had deteriorated and he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act several times.

The court heard he had been taking an anti-depressant for around 13 years before he stopped after suffering an injury at work last April.

His wife Ms Ashworth thought Gareth might have stopped taking the drug because he was no longer in a routine of getting up and going to work.

“The medication worked up to this point,” she said.

“There was a rapid decline in his mental health.

“There was also an incident with his brother which had a knock-on effect.”

The inquest heard Gareth was admitted to the Irwell Unit at Fairfield General Hospital after taking an overdose of his medication last summer.

Jason Taylor, a mental health practitioner, told the hearing Gareth appeared “anxious and in low mood” at that time.

He had also become fixated on a vinyl record he owned by 1970s rock band Eddie And The Hot Rods.

Heywood Coroners Court at The Phoenix Centre

The record sleeve features an image of Aleister Crowley, an occult figure renowned for his interest in magic who died in 1947, in bunny ears.

According to a conspiracy theory, the band’s playful use of Crowley’s face sparked a curse which led to them suffering bad luck.

The court heard Gareth believed he was also ‘cursed’ because he owned the record.

He became even more upset when he saw someone in the Irwell Unit wearing a cap with the same ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears from the record sleeve, the court was told.

“He was highly stressed and scared,” Mr Taylor said.

“He tried to climb out of the window.

“I stayed for four hours talking to him.

“It’s clear there was a psychotic element to his presentation.

“There was more to it, he believe in this cursed record and that this curse had been passed to him.”

Mr Taylor told the court it was ‘unusual’ for someone of Gareth’s age to present with ‘first stage psychosis’ and that he felt he needed further monitoring to identify the ‘root cause’.

Gareth was transferred to the Hollingworth Ward in The John Elliott Unit but he was released just one day later because ‘at that time’, there was ‘no psychotic element to his presentation’. 

His family felt they should have had more involvement in the decision to discharge him and that various medical professionals within Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust did not ask the them for further information about his mental state.

Gareth was admitted to the Irwell Unit at Fairfield General Hospital
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Describing his time in the Irwell Unit, Ms Ashworth said: “He wasn’t in a good place, he was hallucinating.”

She described an incident when she visited Gareth that he was “down on the floor, trying to get bugs into a plastic cup”.

The court heard Gareth was eventually allowed on ‘home leave’ which meant he only needed to return to a mental health ward at night to sleep.

Asked how he was at home, Ms Ashworth said: “He was very paranoid, he couldn’t settle, he didn’t want to be in the house.

“He felt he had brought ‘the evil’ home with him.

“It was constant.”

Although she came to ward meetings with Gareth, Ms Ashworth said she was not asked by staff how he had been at home and that Gareth told medical staff ‘what they wanted to hear.’

“The medication he was on, I don’t think it was working,” Ms Ashworth told the inquest.

On the weekend of October 26 last year, Gareth and his wife went on a scooter weekend away in Bridlington.

“He was just very vacant,” Ms Ashworth said.

“Gareth was a fun-loving guy, he was very touchy-feely, and he was just very, very cold that weekend.”

At around 8am on Monday, October 29, Gareth told his family that he was going to work, but returned a ‘few minutes later’ and set himself alight at the family home in Castleton.

His son, aged in his 20s, managed to escape the blaze by jumping from the first-floor window.

For support for people feeling suicidal, if you are concerned about someone or if you are bereaved by suicide see https://shiningalightonsuicide.org.uk

Samaritans (116 123) samaritans.org operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected] , write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, STIRLING, FK8 2SA and visit www.samaritans.org/branches to find your nearest branch.

CALM (0800 58 58 58) thecalmzone.net has a helpline is for men who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They’re open 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year.

Childline (0800 1111 ) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.

Beat Eating Disorders: Beat provides helplines for adults and young people offering support and information about eating disorders. These helplines are free to call from all phones. Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677, Studentline: 0808 801 0811, Youthline: 0808 801 0711. www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Anorexia & Bulimia Care: ABC provide on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders, those struggling personally and parents, families and friends. Helpline: 03000 11 12 13. www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/

Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying studentsagainstdepression.org

That morning, he had told his partner: “I don’t know what’s real and what’s not real anymore.”

A joint investigation was launched by Greater Manchester Fire Service and Greater Manchester Police and it was confirmed the fire was started deliberately.

Coroner Mrs McKenna said: “The circumstances in which Gareth died were truly horrific.

“The trauma that his family and neighbours will have experienced that morning would have been horrific.

“Gareth was a man who enjoyed life and he was a loving partner, father and friend.

“Gareth died as a result of catastrophic burns he sustained when he ignited flammable liquid which he had poured onto himself and his clothing when he was experiencing psychotic symptoms.

“Whilst there has been some evidence of family involvement with the mental health services, there were also some significant gaps where they were not consulted.

“I do have some concerns regarding Gareth’s second admission to the Hollingworth ward and will be writing to the Trust.”

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