Highland Games champ ‘shot himself with bolt gun’

Mr Aitken died at James Cook University Hospital, Middlesborough. Picture (cc) Mick Garratt (http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/343)
Mr Aitken died at James Cook University Hospital, Middlesborough. Picture (cc) Mick Garratt (http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/343)
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AN AUCTIONEER who shot himself with a bolt gun at a busy cattle mart where he was a director was fighting depression, an inquest has heard.

Former Highland Games heavyweight champion Stephen Aitken, 45, had sought treatment for the illness after the stress of running Darlington Farmers’ Auction Mart became too much.

The father-of-four, who was originally from Stonehaven, died in the James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, on 14 May last year after locking himself in his cramped office and shooting himself in the head.

Teesside Coroner Clare Bailey returned a verdict that he killed himself having heard that despite his depression he could still make decisions for himself, that he was not intoxicated at the time, and that to fire the bolt would require at least four deliberate actions.

His partner Catherine Sheret, with whom he lived and worked for 15 years and who is the mother of his two daughters, said in a statement read out at the inquest that she could not explain his actions.

She said: “Stephen had never harmed himself, never threatened to do anything. I am absolutely at a loss to explain it.”

The 34-year-old, who lived with Mr Aitken at Ingleby Barwick, Teesside, arrived at work after him and found police were already at the scene.

Fellow auctioneer Andrew Armstrong and other colleagues had raised the alarm when Mr Aitken, who had two teenage sons from a previous relationship, went missing.

They heard a noise from the locked office and when they broke the door down he was found slumped at his desk.

Paramedics found he still had a pulse but he had suffered a catastrophic brain injury and died in hospital later.

Pathologist Dr Edward Carling said: “It was a massive, unsurvivable brain injury.”

Mr Aitken had suffered from anxiety, insomnia and depression for more than a year. He had sought treatment, including one night at a psychiatric unit, and was prescribed a series of anti-depressants and sleeping pills. He had seen his GP and a consultant psychiatrist a number of times and was signed off work.

By the time he returned to the mart, friends and family believed he was recovering.

Mr Armstrong told the inquest: “He was a strong-minded character. We tried and sometimes he would accept help. I didn’t think it would come to this.”

The coroner concluded: “I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Stephen Aitken died by killing himself.”

Jim Brown, president of the Scottish Highland Games Association and a family friend, said: “The Scottish Highland Games both home and abroad still mourn the tragic passing of Stephen Aitken.

“He was a very gifted athlete who had competed in the Highland Games circuit for some 25 years and was still competing at a very high level just prior to his death.

“A year on, Highland Games enthusiasts have had time to reflect on his immense talent, enthusiasm and his successful career.”