River Cottage chef killed herself, inquest rules
Philippa Corbin, 27, feared her job in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's empire was in jeopardy when she hanged herself
- guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 July 2011 19.12 BST
A talented chef killed herself amid concerns that her job within Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage food empire was in jeopardy, her inquest heard.
Hours before she died, Philippa Corbin, 27, spoke to the TV chef on the phone. Corbin left work early after the conversation and walked her dogs for the last time before writing a note and hanging herself at her parents' farm in Rocombe, Dorset.
In a statement read to the inquest in Exeter, Devon, her colleague Andrew Forrester said: "She was showing increasing concerns that her job was in jeopardy and that the management weren't keeping us informed properly."
On the day she died in January he said he was at Park Farm near Axminster in Dorset, River Cottage's headquarters, when he heard her speak on the phone to Rob Love, the organisation's managing director. "From the side I heard it seemed she was not getting the answers she wanted and afterwards she conveyed her frustration to me," he said.
"After that we talked about my future plans because my role at the company was being dissolved.
"At 11.30am that same day she was on the phone again. I assume to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall because she said: 'Hi Hugh, I just want to know where we stand.' She then left the room for 20 minutes. After that she was a lot quieter and did not discuss the conversation."
"She left work early that day and said: 'Have a lovely weekend'. She mentioned that she wanted to go to Waitrose and that was where we thought she was going."
In a statement read out during the hearing her father said: "Philippa had been suffering from stress and anxiety attacks mainly around work."
Her GP told the inquest Philippa had visited him between April and November 2010 and he had recommended a course of antidepressants as she showed signs of anxiety and weight loss and talked about self-harm.
At the time of her death, Fearnley-Whittingstall paid tribute to Philippa or "Pip". He said: "Everybody at River Cottage loved working with Pip – she was a very bright spark with a real passion for locally produced, ethical, artisan food. Her knowledge and talent were respected not only by her colleagues here but through her work at our festivals, with the slow food movement and by the whole West Country food community."
After the hearing a River Cottage spokesman said: "Philippa had been in conversation with the River Cottage management about her future role within the company. She was due to meet Rob Love on the Tuesday of the following week. She spoke to Hugh on the Friday morning, when he reassured her that her job was not at stake and that Rob Love wanted to talk to her about changing roles. The company did not know that Philippa had been receiving treatment for depression."
River Cottage said Corbin worked as a chef before becoming assistant manager at its Axminster Canteen and then moved into product development.