Express journalist Helen Ledger’s partner has paid tribute to her as a “kind-hearted” and “caring” woman after her death at the age of 45.
Christopher Walton told Press Gazette Ledger “accepted everyone” and was “always warm” towards others. “If you needed help, or something was a problem, she would always be understanding,” he added.
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At an inquest into Ledger’s death, held at South London Coroners’ Court yesterday, coroner Dr William Dolman gave a verdict of suicide, saying she hanged herself and had made her intentions clear in a note.
Ledger worked freelance on the Daily and Sunday Express picture desk and lived in Crystal Palace, south London, with Walton. He called paramedics after returning home from his music industry job on 26 November 2018. She was confirmed dead the same day.
Only three weeks earlier Ledger’s father had died of motor neurone disease. A year earlier that same disease had taken her mother’s life. She is survived by her brother and niece.
Delivering his conclusion, Dr Dolman said Ledger had been “down and distressed by work events and other events in her life”.
Walton told Press Gazette that she had been unhappy at work and he believed workplace stress had “played a massive part” in her death.
“It was evident to me that the work was making her suffer, because she just wasn’t happy. It just wasn’t fun for her in any shape or form,” he said.
He said changes at the Daily Express, which early last year was bought by Mirror publisher Trinity Mirror (now Reach), had “meant [staff] were all having to do more” and that she complained about it to him daily.
She “changed as the job changed”, Walton said.
In September last year, Press Gazette reported that Reach was cutting 70 jobs across the Express, Mirror and Star titles in an effort to “remove duplication of effort”, with the redundancies understood to have fallen hardest on Express and Star staff.
Walton said journalism had “always been part of [Ledger’s] life”. She began her career in her late teens at a picture agency before going on to work at the Independent.
He said Ledger had faced a “maelstrom” of events before her death, including the loss of both parents.
“To say one thing was more prevalent than the other is probably unfair, but she spent most of her time at work,” he said. “She spent more time at work than she did with me.”
He said that in the week before she died she had worked long hours, covering from 8am until 1am on the Saturday. He said she “was like a ghost” on the Sunday. The following day he found her dead.
“I keep wondering why is it she got left alone on the desk that week,” he said.
A Reach spokesperson said: “Everyone here is extremely saddened by this and devastated for Helen’s partner Chris. She was a talented colleague and beloved friend to many of us and we miss her.”
Richard Palmer, father of the Express Newspapers NUJ chapel, said: “Helen was much loved by those who worked with her and her death hit them badly.
“Colleagues have told us she was struggling to cope, worried and extremely stressed about losing her job. They believe this was one of several factors that led her to take her own life.
“However, it’s not for me to say how big a part job insecurity played in her suicide.
“There had been a big round of redundancies in the autumn but the future of Helen and other long term casuals working on the picture desks had not been decided. She was not the only colleague who expressed concern about the possibility of losing her job.
“After her death, the company offered support to those who had worked most closely with Helen but there is little sign it has learned any lessons about how to treat people.
“Many of our journalists believe the company has not got the balance right between its responsibilities towards its workforce and its shareholders.
“On her last day at work, Helen was in meltdown, fearing for her future. A colleague doing the same job as her spent quite a bit of time trying to console her.
“We believe he was the last person at the company to speak to her. He told her not to worry and that they would both be all right. Last week he was made redundant.”
Contact the Samaritans helpline free in the UK on 116 123.
Picture: Tony Oudot