Wednesday, 29 September 2021 | 12.2°C Belfast
Mark Bain Twitter Email
September 29 2021 07:00 AM
No words can be harder to read than those by a mother from the suicide note of her son.
The tears flowed afterwards from Sadie Keogh. The emotion and pain remains over eight years since her son Lewis took his own life, riddled by gambling debts he kept hidden from those who loved him.
At Stormont on Tuesday, Sadie, with husband Pete by her side, helped launch a new campaign by Gambling With Lives, a charity set up to give a vital message to young people in schools across Northern Ireland, where the rate of gambling addiction remains, by some way, the highest in the UK.
“Every day is a struggle. All I want is a bit of peace. Please understand. Addiction is cruel,” she read from her son’s note.
“No parent should have to read their child’s suicide note,” she added.
The Fermanagh couple lost their son to suicide in 2013 and since then have been campaigning for greater awareness of the dangers posed by gambling addiction.
The new programme, set up by the charity formed by parents who have been bereaved by gambling related suicide, is now hoping to deliver a hard hitting message directly to school pupils, and will begin in Northern Ireland and England before being rolled out across the rest of the UK.
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Within the next two weeks the pilot, in around a dozen post primary schools, will be under way.
It comes as the Assembly takes the next step in bringing forward legislation to address the gambling problem.
The second stage of the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill reached the Assembly this week.
It’s the first significant reform of gambling legislation in Northern Ireland in more than 35 years and at a time when Northern Ireland has a higher rate of gambling disorder than any other UK region. Up to 2.3% of the adult population is addicted to gambling.
“We’ve been involved with Gambling With Lives since 2018,” Pete said. “But we’re gaining a bit of momentum now. We have MLAs here on side. Robbie Butler and Philip McGuigan have been great allies through this and it’s great to see the house working together. There’s no divisions about it. They really want to do something positive concrete and realistic about curbing the curse of gambling addiction.
“We have a real purpose now. We have already set up a number of pilot schools for the rest of this school year. We need to roll it out in full next year. The fewer people we have to tell our story to in the future, the better,” he said.
Sadie said she believes her son’s problems with gambling began even before he reached post-primary age.
“If Lewis had known when he went into an arcade in Enniskillen the dangers that lay ahead, I don't think he would have ever done it,” she said.
“There was no awareness of where it could lead to.”
Lewis had been living in Leeds for three years. He had a great job, a company BMW and, to his family, all the trimmings of a prosperous life to look forward to.
“He had loads of friends, both at work and in his personal life. He played football and seemed to be very happy and settled,” his mother said.
“We had no idea he was living two lives and was a secret gambling addict. In our family we didn’t know anything about gambling addiction, that it can be a life-threatening disease, until Lewis took his own life.”
Lewis was 34 when he died.
“It was such a shock and something we have to live with for the rest of our lives. Sadie and I will always live with the guilt that we didn’t know what was going on and that we couldn’t help our son,” said Pete.
“When we went on holiday and were on the boat he was always asking for his pocket money to try to beat the machines. He was only about 10 years old. We truly believe it started then.”
The pilot scheme, which includes a hard hitting film document real live stories of gambling addiction and the effects on lives, will be delivered by Barry Fennell, programme manager for Northern Ireland at Gambling with Lives,
“I see myself as facilitating conversations, working with young people,” said Barry.
“It’s completely independent, free from gambling industry influences. We hear about drug addiction, alcohol. Gambling is just as dangerous and people need to be aware of that.
“This is about getting the message into the community, raising awareness. In the immediate future we need to get the message into schools, beyond that sports clubs, community organisations. We’re ambitious. The more people know, the more they will see the devastating impact.
“The impact and the aftermath can be horrific.”
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