Berkshire businessman Stephen Appleton from Windsor killed himself after doctor told him to drink

Stephen Appleton, 51 (pictured in an undated photo), gave up drinking on April 2 2018 after years of battling alcoholism and depression. An inquest heard he was told to resume drinking by his doctor and was found hanged eight days after his GP appointment 

A doctor told a successful businessman fighting alcoholism that he should continue drinking six pints of lager a day – eight days before he hanged himself, an inquest heard.

Stephen Appleton, 51, had given up drinking for a few days and was ‘feeling hopeful’ after years of battling depression and alcohol addiction.

But when he saw his GP Dr Vikash Patel on April 4 last year he told him abstaining could kill him and he should resume his habit of drinking six pints of strong lager a day. 

Eight days later he was found hanged at his home in Windsor, Berkshire, an inquest was told today. 

The hearing in Reading heard Mr Appleton worked in investment banking for 15 years in London but was made redundant in 2009. 

He moved back to his native Australia in 2010 and took on his father’s business of helping people in financial difficulty, but each bankrupted client ‘took a part of him’ and he started to get depressed and drinking heavily in 2016, the inquest was told.

He and his partner Sandra Smith moved back to the UK in January 2018 where Mr Appleton started attending alcoholics anonymous. 

She told the coroner how by April 2 last year Mr Appleton had managed to go cold turkey for a number of days.  

Ms Smith said: ‘On April 4 Stephen and I went to see Dr Patel. 

‘Stephen said he had been abstaining from alcohol for days. He was feeling optimistic. I was hopeful we could finally get some help.

‘However, when we saw Dr Patel, he told Stephen that stopping drinking alcohol immediately was dangerous and could cause a seizure. 

‘He told Stephen to start drinking again. I was shocked and could not believe it. 

‘Dr Patel said to taper off slowly in a controlled way. How could I control the drinking of a man who drank in secret?’

Dr Vikash Patel (pictured centre outside Reading Coroner's Court today)  told him abstaining could kill him and he should resume his habit of drinking six pints of strong lager a day

Dr Vikash Patel (pictured centre outside Reading Coroner’s Court today) told him abstaining could kill him and he should resume his habit of drinking six pints of strong lager a day

Assistant Berkshire Coroner Alison McCormick asked Dr Patel, who practised at the Lee House Surgery in Windsor, to explain why he had encouraged the alcoholic man to drink again.

Dr Patel said: ‘Stephen had reduced his alcohol intake, had been abstaining for two or three days. 

‘My understanding at the time is that he was consuming somewhere in the region of six pints a day before.

‘We had a discussion about the risks of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, my main concerns were with respect to withdrawal seizures, which can potentially be fatal. 

‘I was told that his alcohol consumption should be reverted back to original levels and reduced by 10 per cent per week. 

‘I felt that to be reasonable or he would have run the risk of potentially fatal consequences.’

Dr Patel told the inquest he was following generic advice from Slough-based Turning Point, an alcohol management team, which he conveyed to Mr Appleton, who seemed to agree, though he admitted his partner did not.

She described their life together in a further statement: ‘We moved to Australia in March 2010 and we have dual citizenship. 

‘In 2009, Stephen was made redundant from the job he had worked in for 15 years in London.

‘He then worked for his father’s business, giving people in financial difficulty advice on how to go through bankruptcy. 

‘He spoke to 50 people a week. He enjoyed being his own boss and having a good income but he said he didn’t think he could talk to any more bankrupts and said each person he spoke to ‘took a part of me’.

‘In May 2017 we visited the GP and Stephen was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and he began taking anti-depressants. 

‘He had been drinking more, perhaps starting since 2016 or earlier, and drinking very heavily. Medication didn’t seem to be helping.’

Ms Smith described how Mr Appleton became consumed by financial worries, despite earning $180,000 Australian dollars (£99,300) a year, owning several properties and a racing car. 

She said he began repeating odd statements and phrases several times a day and would turn off lighting and heating to save money.

He also expressed fears about being arrested by Australian police and appearing on the front page of the local paper. 

On March 19 last year he experienced a low moment where he had two drinks following an AA meeting and then laid down on a football pitch near the family home and shouted, ‘Stop! Stop! I can’t do this anymore!’

He went to stay with Ms Smith’s parents in Nottingham on April 2 and reported he had stopped drinking completely. 

Mr Appleton was given medication to help him sleep but he became increasingly disturbed and dishevelled in appearance.

Ms Smith’s mother, Catherine Smith, walked downstairs at 7am the next day to find him hanged. 

Ms Smith came downstairs to untie him and called emergency services but Mr Appleton was declared dead at the scene.

The inquest heard how in calls the day before the former bankruptcy advisor had hanged himself, Dr Patel had been told by Sandra about how he had been testing the strength of a belt.

Dr Patel said of the telephone conversation on April 11: ‘Initially I was concerned but once Stephen told me that it hadn’t taken place I was still concerned but knew that he had been referred and safety net advice had already been given. Stephen hadn’t expressed any thoughts of self-harm or suicide before.’

The doctor said he had given Ms Smith a list of numbers to call, including a crisis team for mental health and Talking Therapies. The inquest continues. 

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