Jack Ritchie inquest: Government’s response will mean more deaths say parents
Charles and Liz Ritchie have spoken out about their disappointment with the Government response to the inquest of their son Jack’s gambling-related suicide, saying “we do not have justice for Jack.”
At the inquest in March, senior coroner David Urpeth found a number of state failings caused Jack’s death, saying gambling-related warnings, information and treatment available to Jack were “woefully inadequate and failed to meet Jack’s needs.” He issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report for the Government to respond to because there continues to be an ongoing risk to life.
Sajid Javid’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has now responded on behalf of three departments, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), and the Department for Education (DfE), with a series of proposed measures, most of which were planned before the inquest.
Charles and Liz argue that these measures fail to sort out the broken system that killed their son and that more young people will die. The government’s response, they argue, does not address the concerns raised at Jack’s inquest but just maintains the current system where the gambling industry controls public health messaging and research education and treatment.
Jack began gambling under-age at 17 when he and a group of school friends would use dinner money to play fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) at a betting shop. Jack’s gambling was encouraged through easily accessible, dangerous forms of online products. Jack died in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 22 November 2017. Before that, he lived in Sheffield, where he grew up.
Charles and Liz co-founded the charity Gambling with Lives in 2018 to support bereaved families, raise awareness of the devastating effects of gambling disorder, and campaign for change.
Liz Ritchie said:
“We do not have justice for Jack. Jack was told that gambling was a safe bit of fun and that becoming addicted was his fault, and the coroner understood this.
“Currently the gambling companies that aggressively market products that have higher addiction and at-risk rates than heroin control the funding for public safety messages, children’s education, treatment and research. The government seems to be saying here that this system, the one that killed our son, will continue.
“We had no way of knowing just how much danger Jack was in, there was no information about different kinds of gambling, how unsafe they are or the extremely high suicide risk, and neither did Jack. If this is all the government has to offer, more young people will die.
“An independently administered statutory levy on gambling companies is crucial now to break the industry’s harmful influence over research, education and treatment. The system cannot continue to rely on voluntary donations from an industry that puts profit over people and which can withdraw funding from anything it disagrees with.
“We believe that the Treasury is now the only body, other than the gambling industry itself, which opposes a statutory levy. Bereaved families are seeking an urgent meeting with Rishi Sunak or his team to get some answers.
“The upcoming Gambling Act review white paper is now our only chance to get this right. We could end up with a situation in years to come where we have bereaved families challenging the government in the high court because nothing was done now when it could have been.”
Charles Ritchie said:
“This response is as woeful as the failings the coroner accused the Government of at the inquest. More than 400 people every year in England are dying because of gambling, more than one person every single day, and this will not stop the deaths.
“This is supposed to be a response that addresses the Coroner’s deep concern to prevent deaths but fails to recognise that many more people will die as long as safety warnings and treatment available keep on following industry-friendly messaging which continues to blame the individual.
“There is nothing here about reducing the mass advertising, nothing concrete about tackling highly addictive online casino games and nothing that points to the industry’s role in reducing the harm it causes.
“Trusting the same organisations, the same structures and processes to somehow magically transform, where all the evidence shows that an industry-controlled system of information and treatment is maintaining the harm, completely misses the point.
“We welcome the contributions of DHSC to this response, they are clearly trying, but it seems their hands are tied by the current system where gambling-industry partner charities, rather than NHS clinics, receive the vast majority of funding in this area.
“We need a smart statutory levy on the gambling industry to pay for truly independent public health messaging, research and treatment to even begin to get the country out of this ongoing health crisis.
We also need to stop normalising such addictive products with wall-to-wall advertising.
“Sadly the government’s response to the prevention of future deaths notice indicates that they still have not grasped the scale of the issue that we face and or the scale of preventative measures that are required to prevent deaths and wider harms.
“We fear that what the long-awaited White Paper will propose will be totally inadequate to the challenge: banning shirt front sponsorship instead of a ban on all advertising around football; affordability checks at a level which will be too high to trigger an intervention before someone is already seriously addicted; and failure to introduce the statutory levy which is needed to transform the entire system of information, education, research and treatment.
“Thousands more people will die and hundreds of thousands of lives will be ruined: we know where the responsibility of that failure will lie.”
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