A BUSINESSMAN was just two weeks from selling his house for a million-pound profit when he made a disastrous decision which led to him taking his own life.
John East-Rigby (65) bought the Molly’s Den empire thinking he could turn it into a thriving concern – but within months he was pumping thousands of pounds into the company to keep it afloat, an inquest at Winchester heard.
But his efforts failed and faced with losing “everything”, including his £2m home at Mockbeggar, near Ringwood, he shot himself there on 8th May this year.
The inquest was told how in less than three years he took out two bridging loans – one for £300,000 and one for £250,000 – after finding out the Molly’s Den business, which he had bought from the previous owner after it went into liquidation, was less profitable then he hoped.
He also discovered several outstanding unpaid bills and that traders’ deposits of £6,000 were missing. He also had to pay business rates totalling thousands a month.
Mr East-Rigby also paid £30,000 rent every quarter for each of the premises where Molly’s Dens – which at the time totalled five – were housed.
As part of his efforts to make the business profitable, which he renamed MD Emporium Ltd, Mr East-Rigby closed down the New Milton branch shortly after taking over in October 2017, offering to move traders to premises in Ringwood.
But the business continued to make a loss and Mr East-Rigby borrowed more money – this time £120,000 from credit cards and loans. At the time of his death his debts had risen to £1.5m which were secured against his house.
When he realised the business was going to fail Mr East-Rigby took his own life by shooting himself in the head in a horsebox at his home after leaving a note for his wife telling her not to look for him as it “might be gruesome”.
His widow Cherry told the inquest at Winchester Coroner’s Court that she and her husband, with whom she had been with for 46 years, had come to believe figures they had been given when buying the business in 2017 had not been a true picture.
She said: “It really goes back to the initial due diligence. What was put over as facts by the person who was liquidating the company, they were complete fabrications.
“There were not correct at all but this was taken as read by the professionals. They were not fully scrutinised, therefore Johnny was trading blind for a while.”
The inquest heard how the couple were due to exchange contracts on their house in a fortnight when Mr East-Rigby met the previous owner of Molly’s Den. As a result he pulled out of the house sale and bought the vintage emporium chain instead.
She said the couple had been excited about taking over the business, saying: “It seemed a good opportunity. It suited us down to the ground. We really, really loved it. It was great at the start but it is now clear that in the beginning he didn’t know what he was taking on.”
She said her husband had been a “very experienced” businessman running various companies including one that hosted discos in Wales. He also created an online classic car sales company which he sold for a lot of money.
His only failure, the inquest heard, had been a women’s clothing company called Chic Freak Ltd which had a fetish element. The company had been set up for his daughter in London.
Mrs East-Rigby said she realised her husband was struggling around Christmas time last year.
She said he had been pinning his hopes on getting a rates rebate on the businesses in Bournemouth and Winchester, which would have seen him receive £60-80,000 back and not have to pay rates in the future. The business in Christchurch had already received one.
But shortly before his death he learnt that the Winchester and Bournemouth applications had been rejected.
The day before his death he had phoned a surveyor who told him appealing the decision could take years.
Mrs East Rigby said: “He came down from the office and said it didn’t look good. He really took that to heart.
“Maybe he got into a state of mind that he couldn’t get out of.”
On 8th May Mr East-Rigby had told his wife that “figures for the end of year didn’t look good.” She said: “That spooked me a bit.”
Around 4.55pm he had brought her a cup of tea telling her: “Don’t worry, everything is going to be alright.”
She revealed: “I said ‘Johnny what do you mean?’ He replied ‘It’ll be okay’ then he just turned and walked away, and that was the last I saw of him.”
Breaking down in tears, Mrs East-Rigby said of her husband’s suicide: “After 45 years you think you know somebody but it was a huge shock. Never in a million years did I see that coming.”
Asked by acting area coroner Sam Marsh if her husband would have struggled with losing his lifestyle and the house they lived in, Mrs East-Rigby said: “He would accept it but he would struggle. We have lived there for 39 years.”
It emerged after his death that Mr East-Rigby had checked his life insurance policy to make sure it would pay out in the event of his suicide.
Laurence Berko of CAAS chartered surveyors in Ringwood, who acted for Mr East-Rigby, said in a statement his client had taken out two bridging loans totaling £550,000 saying he had “cash flow problems”.
But he still continued to “struggle” and had trouble attracting new traders because of the demise of the previous Molly’s Dens.
He said John, who he described as a “lovely, lovely man” told him in April 2018 that the company could last another year before going into liquidation and then he “would lose everything.” The property market was flat and he said Mr East-Rigby was worried that selling his house would not raise the money he needed.
Mr Berko said he believed that by committing suicide “John realised that Cherry would receive the life insurance and equity in the house. He knew that by taking his own life Cherry would be alright.”
After his death it was revealed that Mr East-Rigby had written several suicide notes including one dated 29th December in which he wrote of his “despair and not being able to see any way out”.
Ruling Mr East-Rigby’s death a suicide, Ms Marsh said: “Outwardly John appeared to have a very enviable lifestyle, a lovely home and a happy marriage, a privileged and luxurious lifestyle he had become accustomed to through hard work.
“But John did appear to be struggling underneath. The only way John could see to get out of this and keep Cherry in as much comfort as possible was to sadly take his own life.”
Talking to Mrs East-Rigby, she said: “He wanted to see you in as much comfort as possible, he shielded you from all of the burden. He wanted to make sure, Cherry, that you were okay and he could leave you.”
Talking about her husband at the inquest, Mrs East-Rigby said: “He had such a great sense of humour, he was a very thoughtful person, very considerate. He enjoyed getting involved in businesses and making things happen.
“I miss him a great deal, it’s a very strange life without him.”
In a statement released by Mrs East-Rigby, she paid tribute to her husband saying: “His loss is unbearable and it has turned my life upside down. Johnny was fully committed to Molly’s Den and put all his financial resources into the business which kept traders going for 18 months.
“He was aware of how hard the staff worked and all the efforts they put in.
“We took on Molly’s Den on 16th December 2017 and I feel Johnny hasn’t been given recognition for what he achieved in such a short time. His hard work kept 200 people in jobs for far longer than if he hadn’t taken over the company.”