Monday, Apr 19 2010 3PM
British judo star tipped for Olympic glory hangs himself with own black belt after breaking up with girlfriend
Last updated at 1:39 PM on 19th April 2010
A British judo star tipped for success at the 2012 Olympics hanged himself with his own black belt after struggling to get over splitting from his girlfriend, an inquest heard.
Firefighter Robert ‘Robbie’ Gallagher, 23, was so talented in martial arts he was listed as one of the amateur sportsmen expected to shine during the London Olympics.
He was known across the Judo world for fighting in the 66kg weight category and was one of Britain’s top judo players in 2005, when he was in the British junior squad.
But an inquest heard he had secretly been battling depression after splitting with the mother of his daughter – and in the early hours of New Year’s Day he was found dead in his home in Mold, North Wales.
His father Robert Gallagher Snr, said: ‘We as a family are so saddened by Robbie’s untimely death and we miss him greatly.
‘He was into his judo and was a contender for the 2012 Olympic games and was a retained firefighter, hoping to have a future full-time in firefighting.
‘He had been a mischievous happy person and enjoyed his life. He wanted to achieve the very best.’
Mr Gallagher started judo when he was five before later taking up the sport at the highest level.
He was British judo champion three times and represented North Wales Fire and Rescue Service at the 2008 World Firefighting Games at the Echo Arena, Liverpool.
A British Judo Association spokeswoman said after his death: ‘British judo is extremely saddened by the loss of Robbie Gallagher.
‘A talented judo player, Robbie will be missed by players and coaches alike.’
An inquest heard last Friday how Robbie had been with girlfriend Sophie Bell-Halfpenny for four years, and together they shared a home and daughter Evie.
When their relationship broke down, he moved back into his family home where he began a course of anti-depressant drugs.
Miss Bell-Halfpenny told the hearing her former partner had threatened suicide on several occasions, explaining: ‘He once phoned me at 4am to say he had taken an overdose of sleeping tablets.
‘Then he came up to my house and and was waving his judo belts at me saying he was going to take his own life.’
The inquest in Mold heard how the judo ace had gone to a pub on New Year’s Eve to see in 2010 with some friends but had then gone back home to hang himself.
His father said he did not realise his son had returned home early until he went to have a cigarette outside shortly after midnight, and heard a noise from their garage.
He stepped inside and made the horrific discovery of his son hanging by his own judo belt.
A post-mortem examination revealed the father-of-one had died from asphyxia caused by hanging.
Toxicology results showed he was more than three times the drink-drive limit. He did not leave a note.
Recording a verdict of suicide, North East Wales coroner John Hughes, told the family: ‘I want to tell you how desperately sad I was to hear of your misfortune, especially as it was someone as young as your boy.’
After hearing of his death last January, a spokesman for his former school, Alun School, said: ‘We are very sad to hear this news.
‘He was a very outgoing character who was well liked by all the staff. He always had a big smile on his face.
‘We remember him fondly as a very fit lad, he could turn his hand to anything, but judo was his sport.
‘Robbie was one of the most gifted athletes we had at the school. He excelled at judo and represented Wales and the UK.
‘He was an excellent judo player and at one time he was in the top group for his age.’