'I still think about him every day' - dad's emotional tribute as inquest opens into his son's death

An inquest opened today into the death of a previously healthy 20-year-old swimming instrucor who took his own life after months of severe mental health problems.

By Richard Beecham
Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 4:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 5:47 pm

George Hackney, from Whinmoor, was found dead at his home on June 7, 2020.

It followed months of personal battles which included two psychotic episodes - instances in which the sufferer loses contact with reality.

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The inquest into George Hackney began in Wakefield this week.

The hearing at Wakefield Coroner's Court was also told he heard voices and had suicidal thoughts in the months leading up to his death. He had no known mental health problems before September 2019.

The court heard how swimming instructor George had his first psychotic episode on September 7, when he was found in a "distressed state".

After being referred to the Aspire mental health team, he was put on anti-psychotic medications.

A review with professionals the following January saw him complain of side-effects from the medication, including blurred vision, and it was agreed that his medication be changed. However, he said of his mental state that he was "90 to 95 per cent" back to his old self.

In February of that year, he reported that the new medication had positive effects.

In late March, he complained of sleep problems, and was prescribed zopiclone.

He relapsed that April, when he entered another psychotic episode. Around that time he admitted to medical professionals that he had smoked cannabis around two weeks previously.

Professionals went to visit George in his home on April 21.

Dr Robin Owen, a consultant psychologist at Aspire, said: "He seemed really unwell. He was talking about hearing voices and said the devil was entering his body and that cameras were spying on him.

"There was a change in his demenor, and he was smiling at me without reason. He seemed really unwell."

Dr Owen recommended "drastic intervention". After having his care taken over by the Leeds Intensive Support Service, his mental state continued to fluctuate.

His medication dose was increased on May 13.

His behaviour became more unusual during that month, with instances of him posting his phone through his letterbox and shouting at nearby houses.

Representing George's family at the inquest, Georgina Cursham suggested there was a "discrepancy between George's perception of his illness and his family's experiences".

She was told the doctors had followed clinical guidelines.

On May 18, he met with a health professional, and spoke of hearing voices that "came from the wind", and believed them to be a "gift from the lord", but insisted he was no longer distressed by them.

On May 29, he told professionals about hearing voices "mainly at night", adding that he was no longer concerned about being watched by the CCTV at his neighbours' house.

On the morning of June 7, George was found dead by his dad Stephen in their home.

Reading out a statement to the court, Stephen said: "George still lived at home with me where he had lived all of his life. We often ate together, we worked together as swimming teachers, we went on holiday together. We played cards and pool together.

"I did his washing, and his ironing, and was his personal taxi service.

"Nothing out of the ordinary, but a very special person in my life who I loved very much, and who I still think about every day."

Dozens of people turned up to Soldiers Field, Roundhay Park, at an event a month after George's death to release biodegradable balloons with a message to George inside.

The balloon release was organised by George's close friends as a way to say goodbye, as only immediate family were able to attend his funeral due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The inquest continues.