Published: 13:00, 11 December 2014
A proud vet took his own life because he feared crippling debts would force him to close down his surgery, an inquest has been told.
Roger Baker was found dead at the Whitstable practice he had run for 40 years, after injecting himself with a drug used to put down animals.
At the hearing on Tuesday, coroner Ian Goldup was told 66-year-old Mr Baker felt overwhelmed by VAT debts and demands from the Inland Revenue.
His wife Georgina Baker told the inquest she was aware of his financial problems but said he did not like to discuss them with her.
She said: “I didn’t know about the VAT letter until afterwards. Had he mentioned that to me, I might have sat down and said ‘right, we have to do something about this’ and he would probably have had to cease trading.
“But to him that would have been a complete failure because being a veterinary surgeon is what defined him as a person more than anything else. He had no intention of retiring. If he couldn’t do that any more, to him, life would not be worth living. ”
She told the inquest that she and their son Christopher, who was visiting from London, had become concerned when Mr Baker failed to return home from the Cromwell Road surgery on April 19 this year.
Unable to reach him by phone, they decided to drive to the practice.
They found his car outside but the doors to the premises were locked. They let themselves in but there was no sign of Mr Baker.
On the desk in his office they found several envelopes with names on, including one to Mrs Baker.
She told the coroner said: “As soon as I read the first line, I knew immediately what had happened.”
Her son added: “It was obvious to me it was a suicide note from a man who was depressed and didn’t want to carry on.”
"Being a veterinary surgeon is what defined him as a person more than anything else. He had no intention of retiring. If he couldn’t do that any more, to him, life would not be worth living..." - Georgina Baker
Christopher dialled 999 and began looking around the building, but said he did not want to leave his mother to discover the body.
When police arrived, a further search of the building and outbuildings revealed Mr Baker lying on the floor in a shed. Lying next to him was a syringe. A paramedic confirmed he was dead.
A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Baker had died from a fatal overdose of pentobarbitone – widely used by vets for euthanising animals.
When police studied the surgery’s CCTV cameras, it showed Mr Baker arriving with a carrier bag containing envelopes which he is seen placing on the desk.
The footage also showed him unlocking the dangerous drugs cabinet and taking out several bottles and packets of syringes.
The police investigation concluded there had been no third party involvement or foul play.
The coroner, Mr Goldup, asked Mrs Baker about her husband’s state of mind in the weeks before his death.
She said: “I was aware of his financial problems but I did not think his mood had deteriorated particularly. He was a stressed sort of person who lived on his nerves and had phases of being more or less stressed.
“If I ever asked him what the problem was he would just say, ‘it’s nothing – I’m just getting old’.
But Mrs Baker did reveal that he told her he had attempted to take his own life many years ago before he met her and had been on a life support machine.
Veterinary assistant Ramona Matei, who worked with Mr Baker, told the inquest she thought her boss had looked “very sad” in the months before his death.
She said she was also aware he had financial worries and staff were concerned the business would have to close.
Recording Mr Baker’s death as a suicide, Mr Goldup said: “The deliberateness of his actions, the interpretation of the notes and the circumstances of his death leave me in no doubt that he took his own life.”
Mr Baker’s sudden death shocked and saddened many people in Whistable, especially pet owners who appreciated his dedication to animals.
A father-of-three, he was born in the town and after veterinary college opened his first practice from his parents’ home in Joy Lane in 1973, moving to Cromwell Road three years later.
He also took a wider active interest in animal welfare, serving as vice-chairman of Conservative Animal Welfare, where he helped introduce the Pet Passport Scheme.
He became involved with helping animal charities, including the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust, which he visited along with wife Georgina in 2008.
Mr Baker was also a keen wildlife photographer, a former chairman of the Friends of Prospect Field and served as president of Whitstable Rotary Club.
After his death, his family approached the Lady Dane veterinary practice in Faversham which took over the Cromwell Road surgery and retained the staff.
Anyone feeling desperate or suicidal can call Canterbury Samaritans in confidence on 01227 457777.