A DEPRESSED businessman killed himself by lying in front of an oncoming train, an inquest jury has ruled – despite his grieving family claiming his death was a tragic accident.
Farmer and property developer Ho Sanderson died from multiple injuries caused by the impact of the inter-city express, which hit him at the Felton Lane level-crossing on March 8 last year.
Witnesses told how the 60-year-old, who lived at Eshott Hall, was seen pushing his bike beneath the railway barriers before “calmly laying down” his cycle and then getting down beside it.
Just seconds later the train hit him.
Mr Sanderson’s death came a year after a shooting incident on land near the family home, in which he suffered serious facial injuries caused by a shotgun blast.
His family said it was also an accident, which happened as he was attempting to shoot a rogue fox.
But evidence was heard that a valuable life-insurance policy, worth £4.2m at the time of his death, was due to diminish by more than £1m the following day.
And it was also revealed that Mr Sanderson’s business empire was experiencing severe financial difficulties, which eventually saw the loss of Eshott Hall in mid-2009, and a number of his companies being taken into administration.
Crucial evidence was given by train driver Christopher Barrie, who saw Mr Sanderson on the tracks just seconds before the impact.
He told coroner Tony Brown: “Before Felton Lane level crossing, the speed limit is 110mph on the long straight. My speed was 100mph.
“I was then aware of a person on the line with a pedal cycle. I thought it was a child. I first thought they had been trapped inside the barriers but I can remember he put down the bike and lay down on the track beside it.
“I was sounding the horn all the time and applied the brakes, but it was impossible to stop in time at that distance.
“I hit both the person and the pedal cycle at about 90mph. It was about seven seconds from the time I saw him until the impact.”
At such a speed, Mr Barrie said it took a quarter of a mile to bring the train to a complete halt. He was left deeply traumatised by the incident.
Witness David Dallard, who was immediately behind Mr Sanderson at the level crossing, also told the inquest how he saw Mr Sanderson go under the barrier before laying down the bike.
While he could not say whether Mr Sanderson stumbled or lay down, as suggested by the Sanderson family’s barrister, Michael James, he added: “He made no attempt to get up.”
Robert Moxon-Browne QC, representing life assurance company Jubilee, said he believed it was clear that Mr Sanderson had intended to take his own life.
The March 2009 shooting incident, he said, happened on the day Mr Sanderson was due to appear in court over alleged breaches of planning conditions at his Hartford Hall luxury housing development near Bedlington.
He said that by March 2010, Mr Sanderson “knew the game was up” after financial problems resulted in his companies going into administration in July 2009.
It included the loss of Eshott Hall, which had been in the family since Victorian times and was lovingly restored back to its former glory by Mr Sanderson.
But Mr Sanderson’s son David said there was no indication that his father had been depressed, including medical reports and psychological evaluations carried out in the wake of the 2009 shooting.
He said: “I had no reason or suspicion to believe that my father was suicidal.”
In delivering a verdict of suicide, the foreman of the jury said: “Mr Sanderson killed himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed.”