The heartbroken mother of a 27-year-old Totnes man who tragically died while living in Prague has had to try and piece together what happened to her son after being given no information from Czech authorities.
An inquest into the death of George Johnston was held today, December 2, at Plymouth’s coroner’s court.
On the family’s request, it was agreed to proceed with the ‘very limited’ information provided to the coroner.
It was heard how George had been working in Prague as a project team leader, and loved his job which involved conference and event organising in places such as Berlin and Budapest.
The only evidence received from Prague officials was that George had died at his home address in the capital, and the cause of his death had been confirmed as hanging.
His body was then repatriated back to the South Hams for family and friends to hold a fitting celebration of his life.
George’s mother Paula told how as requested, she had contacted the Czech authorities to obtain the relevant paperwork from the officer in charge of the case into her son’s death but received no response, despite trying three times.
The Plymouth coroner’s officer said in a statement he had since been told the file had been shut and they could do nothing further.
The main evidence heard during the inquest was what Mrs Johnston had uncovered after flying to Prague following George’s death on April 6, 2019.
During her stay, which lasted about a week, she said in a statement how she had spoken to lots of different people to build up a picture of events prior to her son’s death.
The inquest heard that shortly before his death, George had fallen out with his girlfriend after losing some money which he had withdrawn from a cash machine to fund a flight home for her to see her sister, who was about to have a baby.
Mrs Johnston said: “George was notorious for forgetting and losing things. He was always in a rush and always had 20 things on the go at the same time.”
A work colleague of George told Mrs Johnston that the argument caused George to turn to drink and drugs, and that his boss had put him in a taxi home.
It was heard how George had stopped drinking alcohol after acknowledging he had a bad relationship with it.
Mrs Johnston said she spoke to him the following morning and he told how his girlfriend had stayed out all night, and asked his mum to look at flights back to the UK.
During their call, she said his girlfriend returned to collect a change of clothes and that an argument broke out so George ended their conversation.
The inquest heard that George threatened to kill himself if his girlfriend left. Unknown to him, she had friends waiting for her downstairs so she walked out and did not return.
Mrs Johnston said it was likely George would have expected her to come back.
Referring to his threat to end his life, she said: “I believe it was George’s intention to scare her or stop her from leaving.”
She added his girlfriend had not believed he would see through his threat and had been struggling with guilt after his death that she had not returned.
Tragically it was only after his death that the missing money from the cashpoint, which had started the initial argument, was found in his bedroom.
Mrs Johnston said: “An envelope of cash was found sticking out from under the bed. He must have dropped it when he bent down to unplug his phone.”
Mrs Johnston told how George was full of ambition for the future in his career and described him as a ‘natural salesman’.
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She concluded: “We will never know what truly happened. My gut feeling is it was not his intention to take his own life. I believe his death was an accident rather than suicide.
“He had not shown any signs of depression or had any other mental health issues.
“He had not been drinking regularly or taken drugs for some time.”
Recording an open conclusion, coroner Ian Arrow said: “It is very difficult for me when I have no full report from the police from the scene or photographs.”
He continued: “I can’t, on the balance of probability, be certain from the story given to me that George intended to take his own life.
“I am recording an open conclusion because it is not clear how the hanging came about.”
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Local help is also available from Devon-based charity Andy’s Man Club. It has four groups across Devon with a mission to reduce the number of deaths by suicide in men.