A finance manager hanged himself on a farm days after £250,000 worth of ‘irregularities’ were discovered at the GP service where he worked, an inquest heard.
Anthony Atherton, 42, had worked for BARDOC, a firm which provides the out-of-hours medical and GP service for Rochdale, Bury and Bolton, for 15 years.
He rose through the ranks to the position of business and finance manager but last August he learned from a colleague that a review had uncovered financial irregularities at the service.
Three days later, he was found dead at Boar Edge Farm in Bury, Greater Manchester, where he kept horses which he owned.
The inquest into his death, at Rochdale Coroner’s Court, recorded a verdict of suicide on Tuesday and heard that police are now investigating an allegation of fraud against Mr Atherton.
His partner, Toddrick Marsh, revealed they had made plans to buy a house together, where they would have had space to keep his horses.
Finance manager Anthony Atherton, from Bury, Greater Manchester, was found dead on a farm days after £250,000 worth of ‘irregularities’ were discovered at the GP service where he worked, an inquest heard
Detective Inspector Alison Witkiewicz, from Greater Manchester Police, told the hearing that BARDOC had reported allegations of fraud against Mr Atherton, from Bury, to police in September, a month after his death.
She explained that the allegations involved a sum of about £250,000, and related to a period between April 2015 and June 2020.
The report was made to police after a member of staff was brought in to review BARDOC’s finances last April.
DI Witkiewicz said: ‘On August 11, the member of staff informed Mr Atherton of these irregularities.
‘He was informed he would not be allowed to do part of his job.’
DI Witkiewicz said the police investigation into the allegations was still ongoing.
Mr Atherton’s mother, Jeanette, said the allegations did ‘not sound like him at all’ and described her son as a ‘sociable’ person with a ‘wide circle of friends’.
He rose through the ranks to the position of business and finance manager at BARDOC but last August he learned from a colleague that a review had uncovered financial irregularities at the service
Mrs Atherton said: ‘He was the life and soul of the party. He was very generous to any of his close friends who needed his help.’
She told the hearing that her son had a ‘high work ethic’ and had worked as a care assistant prior to taking up a managerial role at BARDOC.
She said the last time she had spoken to him was via text messages on the evening of August 13, and she had ‘no cause for concern’.
However, the inquest heard that in the months leading up to his death, Mr Atherton had raised concerns with HR after hearing that a new manager was due to be brought into BARDOC with her own team.
His partner Mr Marsh revealed that Mr Atherton’s workload had increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic and had led to him putting in extra hours.
Mr Marsh said Mr Atherton had also made a complaint regarding a colleague about a week prior to his death.
Mr Marsh said he had known Mr Atherton for about four years and described him as a ‘fun, happy person who got on with everybody’.
Mr Marsh said: ‘I’m not aware that he had any issues. Yes, he was under pressure at work but he was good at dealing with it.
‘I have no idea why Tony did what he has done.’
The inquest heard that after finishing work on August 13 last year, Mr Atherton headed to Boar Edge Farm, where he kept his horses in a stable.
He called Mr Marsh to say he would be late home.
Three days later, he was found hanged in stables at Boor Edge farm (pictured), off Woodgate Avenue in Bury, Greater Manchester, where he kept his horses
While at the farm, Mr Atherton collected some milk from Deborah Cooper, a friend who lived there, shortly after 7.40pm.
The pair chatted for 10 minutes and Mr Atherton confided in her that he was having a ‘tough time’ at work and had put in a grievance against a colleague.
Mrs Cooper said he had seemed ‘his normal self’ and later returned to the stable.
Throughout the course of that evening, Mr Atherton and Mr Marsh exchanged several text messages before the latter then fell asleep.
Mr Marsh awoke at 2am and tried to ring Mr Atherton after becoming oncerned that he had not replied to his latest texts.
However, there was no answer and Mr Marsh went back to sleep.
He woke up again at 6.30am and, still not having heard from his partner, sent a text to Mrs Cooper asking her to check his horse box.
She went down to the stables where she discovered Mr Atherton’s body.
Pathologist Dr Sami Titi gave Mr Atherton’s cause of death as asphyxia due to hanging.
BARDOC is based at Moorgate Primary Care Centre in Bury
The court heard that following her son’s death, Mrs Atherton had become concerned about sums of money regularly being withdrawn from his bank account, but she put it down to him having work done on his home.
She said she was not aware of him having any debts and that he had always been a ‘saver’.
Recording a conclusion that Mr Atherton’s death was suicide, senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said: ‘He was giving people the appearance that he was absolutely fine.
‘Very tragically there is clearly something on his mind that he might be aware is going to come out.’
Addressing Mr Atherton’s family, Ms Kearsley said: ‘I can’t answer why, and I can’t answer the questions you need to know around that investigation and what is going on.
‘His death must have been so shocking for you as a family, then to hear a month or so later about the investigation, you must have so many questions that don’t make sense to you.’
BARDOC could not be reached for comment. Greater Manchester Police were approached for comment.
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