Yeovil Town captain Lee Collins took his own life after struggling with alcoholism and mental health issues, an inquest heard.
The body of Mr Collins was discovered at the Lanes Hotel in West Coker, near Yeovil, after he failed to attend training on March 31.
An inquest in Taunton was told Mr Collins, of Newport, Gwent, had problems with low mood and alcohol addiction in the years before his death.
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Tony Williams, the senior coroner for Somerset, reached a conclusion of suicide at the inquest on Wednesday afternoon.
In a lengthy statement read to the inquest, Mr Collins’ partner Rachel Gibbon described him as a “very complex character”.
“There was a Lee Collins that the world saw and a Lee that only those closest to him saw,” Ms Gibbon said. “On the surface, Lee was confident, cool and collected. He had time for everyone and anyone and if he didn’t have very much time, he would make it.”
Ms Gibbon described her partner as a “class clown” who would make people laugh with his “infectious personality”.
“The Lee that no-one else saw was a completely different person,” she said. “He was insecure, anxious and lost. Lee had an addictive personality. Whatever it is he was doing, he was doing it 110%.”
She told the inquest that Mr Collins had an “intermittent addiction” to gambling throughout their relationship but his “main addiction” was drinking.
“Lee was an alcoholic. No-one really knew the extent of how bad his drinking was,” Ms Gibbon said. “Lee drinking was never an issue and was recreational until he started to use it as a crutch for his mental health.”
In 2017 Mr Collins was left devastated by the deaths of his dog and his father, the inquest heard.
Tributes laid outside Huish Park in memory of captain Lee Collins
He previously drank alcohol at the weekends but this increased to every night, when he would consume six bottles of strong cider and two bottles of wine, Ms Gibbon said.
She told the hearing Mr Collins, who also began drinking spirits, would disappear for “days at a time on drinking benders”.
Mr Collins went to rehab in November 2018 and did not drink alcohol for six months, but began again during a holiday.
Before his death, Ms Gibbon would set her alarm early to remove empty bottles of alcohol from their house to prevent their children from seeing them.
“I also found drugs on Lee and in our home,” she added. “Towards the end of Lee’s life, as a couple we were having major issues because of addictions. I explained to Lee that something had to change but nothing was.”
In late 2020, Ms Gibbon and their children moved to live with her mother and sister following the death of her grandfather.
Mr Collins saw this as her leaving him despite her assurances this was not the case, she said.
“This I truly believe was the final factor for Lee,” Ms Gibbon told the inquest. “I spoke to Lee so many times about his mental health and his addictions. I begged him to get help.”
But she added: “His actions are the last thing I ever thought he would do.”
As painful as these proceedings are for those who have lost a loved one the lessons that can be learned from inquests can go a long way to saving others’ lives.
The press has a legal right to attend inquests and has a responsibility to report on them as part of their duty to uphold the principle of open justice.
It’s a journalist’s duty to make sure the public understands the reasons why someone has died and to make sure their deaths are not kept secret. An inquest report can also clear up any rumours or suspicion surrounding a person’s death.
But, most importantly of all, an inquest report can draw attention to circumstances which may stop further deaths from happening.
Should journalists shy away from attending inquests then an entire arm of the judicial system is not held to account.
Inquests can often prompt a wider discussion on serious issues, the most recent of these being mental health and suicide.
Editors actively ask and encourage reporters to speak to the family and friends of a person who is the subject of an inquest. Their contributions help us create a clearer picture of the person who died and also provides the opportunity to pay tribute to their loved one.
Often families do not wish to speak to the press and of course that decision has to be respected. However, as has been seen by many powerful media campaigns, the input of a person’s family and friends can make all the difference in helping to save others.
Without the attendance of the press at inquests questions will remain unanswered and lives will be lost.
Ms Gibbon concluded her statement by describing Mr Collins as a “gentle giant” and “the kindest, most generous man”.
“He made me smile every single day and was genuinely the best dad that I could ever wish for my children,” she said.
“Lee was also a selfish person. I genuinely blame his addiction for this. Nothing would come before alcohol. If there was a choice between drinking and doing anything else, drinking would have won. I genuinely think that it was his illness that made him this way but most importantly, it didn’t make me or anyone love him less.”
The inquest heard Mr Collins’ body was found by Terry Skiverton, assistant manager at Yeovil Town, at about 4.50pm on March 31.
Emergency services attended the hotel, where a number of footballers for the club were staying, and Mr Collins was pronounced dead at 5.01pm.
A post-mortem examination found Mr Collins died from hanging. He had alcohol and cocaine in his blood at the time.
Statements from Mr Collins’ doctors told how he had sought help for low mood and alcoholism in the years before his death.
A week before he died, he told one GP that he was “struggling to cope with the breakdown of his relationship”, the inquest heard.
Darren Sarll, Manager of Yeovil Town lays a wreath in the middle of the pitch as a mark of respect to Yeovil Town Footballer Lee Collins on May 29, 2021
(Image: Getty Images)
Friend Paul Broadhead said Mr Collins had “struggled with his mental health periodically for a few years” but started “drinking more heavily” in summer 2020.
Mr Broadhead said the Covid-19 lockdown imposed in Wales that October “hit Lee quite hard” and he began missing football training sessions.
“Had he been in his right mind and able to meet friends, I genuinely don’t believe we would be in this situation now,” Mr Broadhead said.
Mr Collins began his career at Wolves and also had spells with Hereford, Port Vale, Barnsley, Shrewsbury, Northampton, Mansfield and Forest Green.
He moved to Vanarama National League club Yeovil Town from Forest Green in 2019 and made 35 league appearances for the Somerset club.
His final game for the club was at Stockport on February 6.
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