A MUSICIAN shot himself at his parents’ New Forest home after a former close friend “harassed” him and his wife by sending them distressing texts and emails.
Neil Zebedee (44), who performed all over the world, was said to be “totally devastated” by the messages, which were also shared with other people. The contents were not revealed at an inquest into his death.
They were sufficiently shocking, Bournemouth Coroner’s Court heard, for one of his female singing partners to say she would never perform with him again and the father of a teenage girl to stop him giving her piano lessons.
His wife Stephanie, a respected horse trainer who had been with him for a total of 28 years, told police that the messages – some of which had also been sent to third parties – had been “catastrophic” for her husband.
In a statement she said that around 15th September 2018 she received a message from Neil’s former best friend, who he had known for 15 years and was godfather to his children, saying that her husband had “some secrets and I needed to speak to him”.
Stephanie added: “Two weeks before his death I became aware Neil had been receiving messages. I got a message from the friend saying that Neil had secrets and I needed to speak to him.
“They were deeply personal secrets. He was very upset and very apologetic. I’d never seen him in that state before. He was devastated.”
Neil, who performed at weddings and taught piano, left the family home in Manor Road, Verwood, for a short while. He came back after Stephanie told him she forgave him and that she wanted to work on their marriage.
But she said the messages continued, with the couple learning that other friends had also received “deeply personal” ones about Neil, and he became very depressed.
She said he told her several times: “You’d be better off without me.” She said she feared he was planning to take his own life saying: “I have no doubt that he was thinking of suicide then.”
She said after he returned home the messages became “numerous” and they contacted the police who started an investigation.
Over the course of two weeks she noticed changes in her husband, who had never previously suffered depression. There followed an attempted suicide in a car in September before he later killed himself with a shotgun.
She said normally her husband would still be in bed when their three children – son Stanley (14), Amelia (7) and a niece they had cared for since her mother died 14 years before – left for school because his work as a musician meant he often came in late.
But on Monday 24th September he made came down to say goodbye to his daughter and also went with Stephanie to take their son to school, something he had never done before.
She said Neil had told her he was going to visit a music shop he liked. But when she tried to contact him later he did not respond.
Stephanie said she was then contacted by the wife of the friend who had been sending the messages. She told her Neil had sent her a message saying: “By the time you read this I will probably be dead anyway.”
She called police who managed to locate her husband in woods in north Dorset. He was in the back of his people carrier with a pipe coming from the exhaust through the back door. In the vehicle was a note to Stephanie written on an iPad. He had swallowed 16 tablets and drunk half a bottle of port.
He was taken to Salisbury General Hospital where he was treated by junior doctor Dr William Thomasson.
He told the inquest he had given Neil an assessment to judge his mental state and according to this he was at low risk of attempting suicide again.
Neil had been “apologetic, said he felt really silly about it and he was glad it didn’t work”, said Dr Thomasson.
He also said he was looking forward to a family holiday coming up in the school half term.
Asked by assistant coroner Grant Davies whether the method of attempting suicide and the amount of planning that went into it was taken into account when doing the assessment Dr Thomasson said: “No.”
The doctor said he had talked the result over with the senior consultant in charge on the night who had agreed with it. Because of that the out-of-hours mental health team was not contacted.
Instead Neil was told he could leave the hospital as long as he came back the next day to attend a mental health appointment.
His wife said Neil asked her to pick him up. When she arrived she found him sitting on his own at the entrance. She did not meet Dr Thomasson, or any other medical staff.
She said she was “shocked” he was being sent home just hours after trying to kill himself saying: “It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to us.”
Neil’s brother Lee asked Dr Christine Blanchard, the medical director of Salisbury General Hospital who chaired a serious case review into Neil’s treatment, why there had been no handover to his family by medical staff.
Lee said: “There were no other triggers from when he left hospital to him taking his own life.
“He left the hospital with one intention, and that is really hard for us. The only thing that would have changed that outcome is if he would have been kept in.
“Neil was very intent on what he was doing, I think he told you what you wanted to hear so he could get out of there. Neil gave you a completely different story to what he was giving us. If the family had been involved in discussions we would have known what to look out for, we just wish somehow you had caught him.”
Dr Blanchard said patient confidentiality meant that Neil’s case could not be discussed with his family and, as he was assessed as low risk, the hospital had no powers to keep him in.
Neil went with his family to stay at his parents’ home in Boxhill, Fordingbridge, after leaving hospital.
His parents John and Betty told police that Neil had asked Stephanie to forgive him but she told him: “I already have.”
He told his family he was “sorry for being a pain” and that they learnt that the message sender was “being quite horrid to Neil”.
Stephanie said her husband was “agitated” all night and convinced the friend would make contact because of the “things that he had disclosed to his wife. I think he was frightened of the consequences.”
She said he kept checking his phone and asking her to check hers.
On the morning of his death his mum said Neil had come in to see her about 7.30am and given her a cuddle, saying he loved her.
Stephanie said that as she left with the children for school, Neil had called them back so he could hug them goodbye again. It was the last time she saw him alive.
Betty said Neil asked her where his dad kept his shotguns, which he used to control vermin. She said he told her he was really scared of the man sending the messages and feared he would come after him telling her he would have the gun “just in the corner to frighten him”.
She said to him he did not need it, and they agreed to go out picking apples in the garden.
Betty said Neil disappeared and she heard a bang. She told police in a statement: “I knew it was Neil and that he had shot himself.”
Neil was found lying on the floor in a storeroom with a shotgun in his right arm. A post-mortem examination confirmed he had died of massive head trauma.
Det. Sgt David Colomb told the hearing how Stephanie and Neil had both complained they were victims of harassment by the sender of the texts and emails.
He said they were of a “distressing nature” and that a file had been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service but it had ruled out any prosecution.
The officer said he believed Stephanie was now intending to challenge this decision regarding herself.
Recording a verdict of suicide, coroner Mr Davies said that Neil was “an accomplished performer, clearly a loving father and caring man”.
The messages he and his wife had received were of a “highly personal nature combined with a threat to disclose them unless Neil did”.
He said the deceased had found the situation “intolerable and these messages were having an effect on him”.
They were sent to third parties which the coroner said “affected his ability to work as he was also a teacher”.
Addressing Dr Blanchard, the coroner said he was concerned about the way people like Neil were dealt with after a failed suicide attempt.
Mr Davies said the hospital seemed to consider there were different types of suicide attempts, but he felt more onus should have been put on the amount of planning Neil had put into the first one and the fact he had left a suicide note.
Dr Blanchard said changes have been made to the way patients who have attempted suicide are dealt with. A new risk assessment form is now used, the mental health team is always contacted whatever the result, and that relatives are now spoken to on handover.
She said using the new form, Neil would have been assessed as medium to high risk but still did not fit the criteria to be sectioned.