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Father killed himself after child payout was tripled: Divorced man struggled to pay maintenance

A MAN hanged himself after the Child Support Agency tripled the maintenance payments he was required to pay towards the cost of bringing up his two young daughters, an inquest was told yesterday.

Graham Clay, 30, a curator at Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, the ancestral home of Lord Byron, hanged himself by a rope from the stairwell in the house on Saturday 4 December after getting depressed about not having enough money for his bills.

In a suicide note left at his aunt's house he said: 'I cannot fight any longer. I have suffered enough. The world had not loved me, nor I it. Why should I carry on? I have lost everything. My home, my children, my will to think of the future.'

Brian Ayres, a fellow curator at the abbey, told the coroner's court, where the inquest opened on 9 December, that Mr Clay 'became quite depressed in October this year because he was finding it difficult to meet the costs of his children's maintenance payments'. He divorced several months ago.

Mr Clay was living at his aunt's house in Mapperley, Nottingham, while his wife and children, Joanna, nine, and Hilary, eight, were living in a house he bought for the family. 'Two weeks before Graham died,' Mr Ayres said, 'he was really worried. He felt he could not find any money to buy the children presents.' The court heard that the initial divorce settlement required Mr Clay to pay his wife pounds 86 a month. However, subsequently he received a letter from the Child Support Agency asking for pounds 276.68 per month. A further letter from the CSA, dated 2 December, then asked for pounds 297.31 per month to include arrears of payments. He was also asked for an additional sum of pounds 78 as an administration charge.

Various documents put before the court by Mr Clay's brother-in-law, Roger Smedley, revealed that the deceased man was worried about an outstanding bank loan, an overdraft, the cost of petrol and other outgoings. In correspondence to the CSA, he noted that his average weekly pay, including allowances, came to pounds 174.

Wendy Clay, his former wife, said that on Friday, 3 December, he come round to talk about his money worries. Initially he said he was shocked to discover that the CSA was taking the maintenance payments directly out of his wages. Then, she said, he discovered the payments had been increased to include arrears payments.

'We agreed it was the law,' she said, 'and there was nothing we could do about it. He was worried, but was not desperate, because we were talking it through.' She said if she had known he 'was going to do something like that, I would not have let him go home that night. His last words were that he would see the girls on Tuesday and telephone on Sunday.'

In his suicide note, Mr Clay said: 'No one will listen. I did my best. I was a good father. I did move to keep the family together until Wendy killed what I had. I love you Joanna. I love you Hilary. I cannot see you. I cannot hold you. All I ever wanted was love. All I got was pain.'

The Nottinghamshire coroner, Dr Nigel Chapman, recorded that Mr Clay had taken his own life. While it was not up to him to apportion blame, Dr Chapman said that Mr Clay was worried about money.

A CSA observer at the court said: 'We are very sorry this has happened, but we can say no more. We are just here as observers.'

The CSA wrote a three-page letter threatening to charge a father interest on arrears of 1p. Graham Hey, of Wythenshawe, Manchester, should have written out a cheque for pounds 232.83 but in error wrote it out for pounds 232.82. His MP, Alf Morris, said the letter defied belief.