Darren Sutherland 'in a panic' before death

Tuesday 13 March 2012 22.12
Darren Sutherland was found dead in September 2009
Darren Sutherland was found dead in September 2009

Irish Olympic medal-winning boxer Darren Sutherland phoned his sports therapist "in a panic" three days before he was found dead, an inquest heard today.

Heather Pearson, who had worked with Mr Sutherland in the months before he took his own life, told the hearing he was "anxious" when she last spoke to him.

The 27-year-old boxer was found dead with his wrists tied together at his flat in Bromley, southeast London, by his manager Frank Maloney in September 2009.

Mr Sutherland, who won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, had been having trouble sleeping and was seeing a counsellor when he died, the inquest heard.

Speaking of her phone conversation with Mr Sutherland three days before he was found dead, Ms Pearson told the inquest at Croydon Coroner's Court: "He was panicky. Darren was a worrier. He worried about things.

"I just thought he was having a bad day. He sounded a bit more panicky than normal, but I just thought he was making a mountain out of a molehill."

She also told the hearing Mr Sutherland was suffering from a "major" cut to his face which he sustained after being hit by an opponent's head.

The wound, which had become infected, was the worst injury he had faced, the inquest heard.

Ms Pearson said: "It was a worry to him. He was very worried about this injury."

The inquest also heard how the boxer told his father the day before he was "feeling low" and "losing confidence in his boxing," but feared he would owe large sums of money to his manager Frank Maloney if he gave up the sport.

Boxer was in a 'spiral of decline'

The inquest later heard that the Olympic medal-winner had mentioned suicide in the weeks before he died.

Mr Sutherland was in a "spiral of decline", according to his physiologist Joe Dunbar.

Mr Dunbar told the inquest how he spoke to the troubled boxer for up to an hour each day on the phone.

He said that the young athlete had raised the issue "almost jovially" of taking his own life about two or three weeks before he was found.

Mr Dunbar said: "During one of those telephone conversations Darren told me almost jokily how he had got to the stage where he felt like killing himself.

"He told me not to worry because he didn't have the balls to do anything like that. It was said in a somewhat jovial manner, which meant I didn't take it literally or seriously."

But the inquest heard that despite the nature of the comment, Mr Dunbar was "not surprised" at Mr Sutherland's death.

"I was not surprised that he killed himself," he told the hearing. "In my mind he was in a depressed state and needed help ideally with medication."

During his evidence to the hearing, Mr Dunbar also said Mr Sutherland had confided in him a desire to quit boxing when his three-year contract was up.

The physiologist told the inquest Mr Sutherland was "an incredibly talented fighter", but added that he felt he did not love his sport.

"I don't think he enjoyed it," he said. "I don't think he really thrived on competition.

"From what I saw he didn't like the pain and didn't want to do it. If I had to say one thing that overrode everything else it was a fear of failure, not wanting to let everybody down."

Declan Brennan, a long-standing friend and mentor to Mr Sutherland, said he became concerned about Darren in the week before his death. "He definitely was under pressure in his thinking at that particular time.

He admitted penning a note, whilst in Darren's company, outlining what would happen to him if he gave up the sport.

The note, which was read to the court, said: "Frank will destroy you and your family in the media. He will hunt you down and do articles about how you f****d up. Frank will destroy you for the rest of your life and he will be right."

It also said Mr Sutherland would have to pay Frank Maloney £75,000 plus VAT, as well as returning his car and flat, if he broke his contract.

The hearing continues.