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BGC defends Dugher following Samaritans attack over suicide comments

| By Richard Mulligan
The head of the Samaritans support charity has accused BGC chief Michael Dugher of attempting to “twist” its words in a bid to diminish the link between gambling addiction and suicide.
Michael Dugher BGC

Dugher, the chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), cited Samaritans advice that “suicide is complex” when giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on gambling last month.

The Committee was questioning Dugher on the dangers of addictive gambling products when the suicide of Luke Ashton was raised.

The Samaritans does claim there “is usually a combination of lots of different factors”. However, in the Ashton case a coroner had concluded that a “gambling disorder” was one of two causes of death. Dugher did acknowledge this during his appearance in front of the Committee.

Responding to the Samaritans complaint, the BGC has denied that Dugher attempted to “manipulate guidance”, describing the accusations as “a smear”.

Charity lays out its concerns

Samaritans has written to both Dugher and Dame Caroline Dinenage MP to set out its concerns. Dinenage is chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

“I am appalled that someone would attempt to twist Samaritans’ words in an effort to deflect from the devastating harm that gambling products can cause,” said Julie Bentley, chief executive of Samaritans.

“This kind of diversionary tactic is reminiscent of what we saw from the tobacco lobby and it would seem the gambling industry is now taking a similar approach.

“Our position is that that the reasons behind suicide are complex but there is an established link between gambling-related harms and suicide risk and it has more recently been recognised that gambling can be a dominant factor in a suicide, without which the death would not occur.

“Any attempt to deny this by misusing the words of a suicide prevention charity is nothing short of disgraceful.”

Undiagnosed gambling disorder

In response to Samaritans’ accusations, a BGC spokesperson said: “Neither Michael Dugher, nor the BGC, has ever sought to manipulate guidance supplied by the Samaritans while discussing the tragedy of suicide. To suggest otherwise is a smear. 

“Michael quoted directly – word-for-word – from the Samaritans’ own public guidance on the reporting of suicide. He did not interpret it or pass comment upon it. Furthermore, Michael was clear in his evidence that whilst recognising suicide cases are complex, he understood and acknowledged the full findings of the coroner in the tragic case of Mr Ashton, including specifically that Mr Ashton was suffering with an undiagnosed Gambling Disorder, a recognised psychiatric condition, and that the coroner had highlighted a failure of the systems used by the operator at that time.”

Samaritans work on gambling harms and suicide

Samaritans is currently undertaking a programme of work around suicide and gambling-related harms.

In a publication entitled “Suicide facts for journalists and programme makers”, Samaritans says: “Suicide is complex and most of the time there isn’t one event or factor that leads someone to take their own life. It is usually a combination of lots of different factors interacting with each other to increase risk. A combination of individual, community and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide.”

In her letters to Dugher and Dinenage, dated 17 August, Bentley said she was “concerned that Samaritans’ messaging around talking about suicide responsibly is being deliberately used to evade recognition of the established link between gambling and suicide risk”.

Dugher diectly addressed the coroner’s findings concerning Mr Ashton’s suicide when stating his evidence to the Committee last month.

“The first thing I would say is that, like all of us, I found it desperately sad to read that and to read what had happened,” he said.

“It did say that he had an undiagnosed gambling disorder, that he had discussed his problem gambling with his wife as far back as 2019, and that he clearly was suffering from what the NHS calls gambling disorder—a recognised psychiatric condition. It said that he had never been diagnosed. He had never sought help, which I thought was tragic as well and goes back to the conversation we talked about signposting the help that is out there.

“I think, to get to the heart of your question, it also talked about the failure of the system and the operator in relation to his gambling, particularly in the 10 weeks before.”

Addressing link between gambling and suicide

Bentley said she is hopeful the gambling white paper can address the link between addiction and suicide. “There is nevertheless room for BGC members to increase safety in the here and now, well in advance of any future regulatory requirements,” she added.

Gambling with Lives, a charity set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, said it is backing Samaritans in its complaint.

“Michael Dugher’s cynical manipulation of Samaritans’ position on suicide is a barefaced attempt to hide the gambling industry’s role in hundreds of deaths a year,” said Will Prochaska, strategy director of Gambling with Lives.

“We commend Samaritans for standing alongside families bereaved by gambling related suicide in calling it out.”

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