Land deal led to farmer’s suicide — (EDP 24)

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EDP 24

Tara Greaves

25 January 2006 07:30

A farmer became depressed over a land deal and took his own life, an inquest heard yesterday.  Laurie Ritchie, 45, a highly respected arable and dairy farmer, was found dead in his Land Rover in December.

A post-mortem examination found that he died from serious head injuries caused by a gunshot.

The inquest in Norwich heard that Michael Goodgane, an employee at the family’s Ludham farm for more than 40 years, was going to feed the cows at about 9.40 am when he noticed Mr Ritchie’s vehicle at the back of the sheds.

“I would not have expected him to be there at that time of the morning,” he said.

He walked towards the vehicle and discovered Mr Ritchie’s body inside.

Alison Ritchie, who had been married to Mr Ritchie for 16 years, said that about 18 months ago he had put into action a plan to buy a piece of tenanted land, which turned out to be quite complex.

“Laurie was getting very frustrated with the length of time it was taking. In retrospect I can see he was talking about it a lot and picking out more negative parts, but at the time he appeared very positive about it,” she said.

The father-of-two had been to the doctor days before his death on December 18 and was prescribed anti-depressants, which he had started to take.

On December 17, he went to Norwich and bought some wine, and then went duck shooting in the afternoon. Later, the couple went to dinner at a friend’s house, where he seemed happy.

“I woke up at about 8am the next day and he had already gone, which wasn’t unusual,” said Mrs Ritchie.

He usually came back at about 9am with the Sunday papers and then took one of his sons to play rugby, but that day he did not return.

After recording a verdict of suicide while suffering from depression, Norwich coroner William Armstrong said: “This is an enormous tragedy and a dreadful shock for his family and friends.”

Mr Ritchie’s funeral at St Catherine’s Church, Ludham, was attended by almost 800 people. Friends and family described a wonderful ambassador who “left his mark on all he touched”.

A keen sportsman, Mr Ritchie was also the director of the rapidly expanding buying group Anglia Farmers and a founder director of Delta Farming, which was established a decade ago to pioneer more efficient arable enterprises.