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By Paul Robins
A desperate student who hid his depression from his family was found hanged at his home, an inquest heard.
The University of Reading student Steven Hawley was found hanging by his dressing gown belt at his shared house in Filey Road in Newtown on March 15 this year.
Flatmate William Gates told the inquest on Tuesday how he discovered the 21-year-old’s body in the utility room of the house just after 8.40am.
Mr Gates, who had known Steven for nearly three years, said there was initial disbelief when his body was found.
“I could see something through the window of the back room,” he said. “I went in and saw he’d hanged himself using his dressing down cord. I couldn’t believe it.”
Mr Gates said he had spoken to Steven when he arrived home at 3am that morning and was concerned he looked tearful and had been drinking heavily.
He said: “He looked like he had been crying which was unusual for him. He was also a lot drunker than I’d usually seen him. But I asked him if he was okay and he assured me he was fine.”
A fellow flatmate, Victoria Jardine, told the inquest: “It was totally unexpected. In the days before he seemed his happy, normal self.
“He was a fun person to be around. We spoke a lot but he never confided in me that anything was wrong.”
However, Dr Sohail Ahmed from The University of Reading’s medical practice revealed Steven had visited him in January 2007 complaining of anxiety attacks and prolonged depression.
He was put on anti-depressant medication, which was increased last August when he complained of feeling “slightly down”.
Steven’s mother Mrs Hawley told the inquest the family had no idea he was suffering from depression.
“We never knew anything. We didn’t know he had seen a counsellor or that he had been taking depression tablets,” she said.
“He was doing really well in his studies and, to us, he was just his happy-go-lucky self.”
She said the news that Steven’s father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in February this year had been a big blow, but remarked how upbeat and positive he had been.
The family were also unaware that he had taken an overdose at their Sheffield home while they were away on holiday in April 2007.
His sister Jennifer admitted that she had found out through one of his friend’s that he was unhappy, but he convinced her it was nothing to worry about.
“He said he was just a bit anxious about life,” she told the court. “He said he wasn’t sure where he fitted in but he was sorting himself out.
“I wasn’t worried about him and when I went to see him at university he was fine.”
The inquest heard how an ambulance arrived at the scene and pronounced Steven dead shortly after 9am. Police also attended and confirmed that no suicide note was found.
A post-mortem examination revealed Steven died of compression of the neck by ligature and his body contained 244 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood – more than three times the drink-drive limit.
Recording a verdict of suicide while suffering from depression Berkshire coroner Peter Bedford said no one could have foreseen his tragic death.
“There was no evidence that he was suicidal or that this was going to happen because Steven kept his anxious moments from people,” he said.
“The window of opportunity for intervention and support was there when he arrived home that morning, but true to form Steven chose not to take it. For reasons we shall never fully understand, Steven decided to end his life.