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English farmer commits suicide

London, May 30: It is not only in India that farmers commit suicide as has just been demonstrated by the tragedy of 57-year-old Englishman Bob Dearney who, faced with being evicted from his beloved 76-acre farm, opted to die in an exceptionally agonising manner.

At 1am he summoned the emergency services who broke into his home to find him drinking a fuming glass of water into which he had dropped pellets of Phostoxin, a corrosive pesticide normally used by country folk to kill rats, moles, rabbits and other vermin.

Seven police officers who accidentally breathed in the fumes themselves required hospital treatment. After Dearnley collapsed on the floor, he was eventually dragged out by firemen wearing protective apparatus but by then the poison had taken effect and the farmer was dead.

Dearnley, who took great pride in running Burpham Court Farm, in Guildford, Surrey, partly as a wildlife conservation sanctuary with some rare breeds of animals, was facing almost certain eviction after a court case on June 15.

He had run up big debts following a legal battle with the National Trust, which had built a nearby weir, thereby flooding part of Dearnley’s estate, according to the farmer.

He had also quarrelled with Guildford Council from whom he was renting the farm, an historic property dating back to the 1600s and owned in more recent times by the Duke of Sutherland, an aristocrat, and the multimillionaire Paul Getty.

One of Dearnley’s woman friends revealed: “Bob blamed the National Trust for diverting a river from which water contaminated his land, causing death and mutations among his rare animals. The dispute ended in the High Court and he lost all his money. I don’t know why they couldn't leave him there. People loved the farm.”

The farmer was declared bankrupt in 2006 after losing the court case against the Trust, ordered to pay a reported £100,000 and told to vacate his farm by September 2008. In the last phase of his protracted battle to retain his farm, which he ran with his wife, Margaret, he was due to be forcibly evicted.

Neighbour and friend, Gilbert McKie, 55, said Guilford Council had let Dearnley down, adding: “He was screaming for help but it just kept getting worse. Now he’s gone the farm will probably get taken over by the National Trust – it’s all a dreadful mess.”

Dearnley’s 15-year-old daughter, Bobby-Jo, had told friends she feared for her father. A friend of the family said: “She thought he may commit suicide, which he threatened to do.”

Britain’s farming community has been shaken by Dearnley’s death. “He loved his family and his animals and said the only way he would leave was in a box,” said a visitor to the farm yesterday.

The pigs, llamas, ponies, ducks and guinea pigs on the farm were popular with children. Another family friend said: “He was a lovely, kind and warm man. I feel so outraged – he was pushed and pushed until he finally went over the edge.”

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