Star jockey and heir to fortune shoots himself

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To the outside world, Harry Dowty, 22, appeared a young man with an enviable life. The heir to a multimillionpound fortune, he was a talented jockey studying for a business degree. He was known as an unpredictable free spirit, charming, fun-loving and caring with a wide circle of friends. But by lunchtime on Monday he had been found dead by armed police, in a suspected suicide.

Yesterday a tribute page on the social networking site Facebook was flooded with poignant messages from devastated friends as the racing world paid tribute to a popular and promising rider.

"Harry, can't believe you felt so low, just wish we all could've helped you in time," wrote Tami Del Renzio, a fellow student at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, where he was in his final year studying for a BSc in property, agency and marketing.

Armed police had been called to Mr Dowty's home in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, at midday on Monday after neighbours heard gunfire. He was found in his ground-floor bedroom and paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene. A shotgun was among the items seized from the house. Police say they are not treating the death as suspicious and the coroner has been informed.

A former pupil at Marlborough College public school, Mr Dowty quickly showed his ability and was racing at the age of 16, with several wins in his first season. He worked for several trainers, earning himself a reputation as a talented amateur rider and was particularly successful with a horse his father bought him called Parahandy.

The grandson of Sir George Dowty, founder of aerospace giant Messier-Dowty, he had lived in Withington, near Cheltenham, with his mother Ann, father George, and 19-year-old sister Suzie. He gained a reputation as an extraordinary sportsman, who showed a flair for country sports and enjoyed everything from polo to golf. Giles Smyly, a trainer who had known Mr Dowty since he was 14 and watched him grow into an accomplished jockey on the point-to-point circuit, described him as a "breath of fresh air" and an all-round sportsman.

"He was an absolutely lovely guy and very passionate about horses and country sports," he said. "He was very bright and loved racing and hunting and everything to do with the countryside. Everybody is absolutely devastated. He was a young lad and he had everything in front of him. We are incredibly shocked."

On Facebook, Suzie Dowty wrote: "Words cannot convey my agony. I would give anything to be hugging you right now and I would never let you go. I love you so much and I always will and never forget that. Love from your sister."

His friends on Facebook recalled a young man with a cheeky grin, who enjoyed wild drunken nights, endless pranks and his two lurchers, Thistle and Thorn.

"I, like many of his friends, could write a book of stories about Harry," wrote Andrew Wadland. "He was always in trouble or planning something... He lived life to the full... there was never a dull moment with Harry. There was so much for him to do, things to achieve, people to meet and places to go, fun to be had, deals to be done, money to be made, horses to have ridden, races to have won, pints to down, laughs to have, but that was not to be... a tragic waste of a young life."

Another friend, Kay Johnston, wrote: "Long after you are no longer a part of our lives we will always remember your electric smile, wicked sense of humour and, most of all, free spirit."

Another friend, James Mctiffin, added: "I can only hope that you're free from your troubles now."