Death by Debt

23 Apr 2012

More and more families are finding themselves in financial turmoil and the consequences are fatal

On February 5, 2010, Hugh McFall left a note on his 18 year-old daughter Francesca’s pillow saying, “I love you more than anything I have ever loved. I could not let you suffer.” It was signed ‘Daddy’.
Yet just moments earlier, this seemingly doting dad had done the unthinkable and bludgeoned both Francesca and her mother Susan, 56, to death in their home. Shockingly, this wasn’t a moment of madness. It was a carefully thought out crime, after which McFall dragged his daughter into the master bedroom and then tenderly lay her down next to her mother’s body. He then called 999 saying, “Please get to my house. I have killed my wife and daughter. I love them so much.” Lastly, he wrote a note saying “I hope I rot in hell” before hanging himself in his work premises on a nearby industrial estate in Shropshire, England.
What makes this murder scene even harder to understand is that McFall wasn’t a psychopath. By all accounts he was a gentle man whom family members have insisted ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’. Yet he was pushed to the brink by the prospect of financial ruin.
McFall had run a successful wholesale florist business for many years, but the day before the murder he found out that his main customer was suspending business with him amid invoice discrepancies adding up to Dhs3,000,000 over seven years. For a man used to living the high life - driving a Dhs200,000 Land Rover, enjoying several exotic holidays a year and sending his daughter to an exclusive Dhs70,000 a year private school - he simply couldn’t face losing it all. And somehow, in his warped logic, he felt that by killing his family he was sparing them from pain too.

Last resort
Sadly, McFall’s thinking is not uncommon. It is generally accepted that there are two paths that murders of this nature follow; the revenge murder committed in anger and the ‘altruistic’ murder committed out of misplaced love. This is where the parent, most commonly the father, decides that life isn’t worth living but as the breadwinner and the person he considers responsible for their welfare, he decides to spare his family the pain of growing up without a father, so he takes them with him.
“These men think that if they can’t provide for their family then they don’t love them enough,” says psychologist Don MacLeod. “At that stage, they don’t want a solution to the problem, they just want it to disappear and to go back to how things were. The only way that they can see that happening is to take both themselves and their loved ones out of the equation.”|
And McFall is by no means alone in taking such drastic action as a result of debt problems. Indeed, just 16 months earlier, and just six miles away from McFall’s family home, Christopher Foster shot his wife, Jill, 49, and 15 year-old daughter Kirstie because he too was facing financial ruin. He also slaughtered their pets and then set light to their sprawling mansion, killing himself.
Scarily, in times of economic turmoil, more and more people all over the world are finding themselves in dire straits - and that can have catastrophic consequences. In February the world looked on in horror as Lambrousi Harikleia, thought to be a mother to a seriously ill child, threatened to throw herself off of an Athens tower block because she was about to lose her job as a result of the euro debt crisis.
And her situation is echoed globally. In America, the number of calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has increased by 51 per cent since 2008, while the number of UK suicides during this time has risen by six per cent.
Here in Dubai, we are feeling the pressure too. According to research by the Forensic Medicine Department, Dubai Police, 60 per cent of suicides in the Emirates are driven by financial concerns - that’s double the amount of people whose deaths are attributed to emotional problems.
“Living simply is no longer a luxury for many families in the developing world. Life is expensive and it can be really catastrophic for an individual who supports his or her family when the money stops coming in,” says Deema Sihwell, psychologist and director of clinical services at the Human Resources Institute, Dubai. “Not only are many people trying to keep up with their own bills, but they often have an obligation to support family members who may be in more difficult financial situations. Financial stress can be so severe that people cannot see a way forward. Every day that a person is not working can be massively strenuous and as debt grows, fear, anxiety, worry and hopelessness also increase. These are the roots of major depression and total helplessness, and can lead people to consider suicide as the only option out of this emotional pain.”

Nowhere to turn
One such case is that of Anil Kumar Nair, 44, and his wife Sreeja, 31. In September last year, the couple are alleged to have hanged their eight year-old daughter Anusree in their home in Ras Al Khaimah, before hanging themselves. Sreeja was six months pregnant at the time, but acording to reports, it’s believed that the couple felt they had no choice but to kill themselves due to their financial struggles. Nair, a trailer driver, had been running his own trailer service company but the business had gotten into trouble and the pair had failed to pay their rent for a few months. Sadly, both had been too proud to seek financial help from anybody. For six months before their deaths, it’s alleged that Nair had refused to answer any phone calls from relatives and friends - many of whom say that they would have been happy to help the couple with their debts. This type of action seems unthinkable when there is help available to those struggling with debt, but according to psychologists, losing financial security can often be a harder trauma to take than even a bereavement or the break up of a marriage.
“In today’s society we measure the worth of an individual in terms of their position in society, their possessions and how much money they have. It’s a case of ‘You are what you own’,” says MacLeod. “So when those things are taken away from someone, it’s a huge amount of pressure to take.
“When you have someone sat in a big house, with a big car outside and it’s clear they are going to wind up with nothing, they feel like a complete failure and believe they no longer deserve a good life. They fear loss of status, loss of face and loss of love.”

On the brink
This is certainly true of Barry Harrison, 47. He and his wife Amanda, 34, were described as a loving, hard-working couple who doted on their children, Aiden, five, and Owen, three, and took pride in their home. But the pair, from Coventry, UK, were both made redundant from their jobs in a Vauxhall car plant in 2007 and the pressure of crippling debts had started to drive a wedge between them. Barry in particular feared it would lead to the end of his marriage. They moved to the Isle of Wight but when neither of them could find well-paid work there, Barry was declared bankrupt in 2009 and it appeared that their marriage was in jeopardy. Then, on August 8 2010, Barry snapped and in a fit of rage he’s believed to have throttled Amanda before hanging himself in the children’s bedroom as their boys played in the hallway, blissfully unaware of the macabre scene that had played out upstairs.
Fortunately the Harrison children survived their father’s rampage, but of all the violent crimes, those where a parent takes the lives of their children are the most baffling. Most parents would die to protect their child, so how can things get so bad, especially over money, that they would be able to hear their cries, see their faces, yet still be responsible for ending their lives?
“By then these people are facing a brick wall,” MacLeod explains. “They are seeking solace not only for themselves, but for those they love too. By the time they commit the crime, they are almost calm. They’ve reached a state of resignation and they genuinely think they are solving the problem for everyone involved. They are taking back the power that they feel has been taken away from them.”
However, Dr Sihwell insists that there is a way back from the brink and urges anyone who is worried about their financial situation to seek help immediately. “Help is definitely available, not necessarily from a psychologist, which can also be a financial obstacle, but from friends, families, religious members and online advice sites,” she says.
“One who is currently in financial difficulty must re-evaluate his spending habits, make cuts where he can, and designate a certain percentage of his money or income to different areas of his life. A financial manager can help people recreate their monthly budgets and help teach them how to save, consolidate loans, simplify expenditures to meet targets and think long-term. Once people have a budget planned out, that stress will be relieved.
“Fortunately, most people do not reach the point where the only option is to kill both themselves and their family, no matter how depressed or stressed out they are. The people who do take this option will probably already have an underlying psychological problem that is far deeper and serious than financial difficulties, such as cognitive impairment, or psychosis.” She adds, “Whilst these cases are absolutely tragic, for others in that situation there is another solution. With the help of their community, they really can turn their problems around.”

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