Act of courtesy led to fatal fall of millionaire philanthropist

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A MULTI-millionaire businessman who fell from a cliff while riding his Segway scooter probably died due to an “act of courtesy” to a fellow dog walker, a coroner has said.

Ex-miner turned philanthropist Jimi Heselden, who never forgot his humble roots, fell 42ft from a footpath above the River Wharfe, as he was taking his dog for a walk close to his home in Thorp Arch, near Wetherby.

Dog walker Sean Christie told an inquest in Leeds ladt week he was walking near Jackdaw Crag by the river, when he saw Mr Heselden at the top of a steep incline apparently weighing up how he was going to tackle the sloping footpath on his X2, which is a rough terrain version of the Segway.

Mr Christie said that, from 40ft to 50ft away, he saw the businessman move a short distance backwards in a movement he assumed was to make room for him to pass.

He said Mr Heselden appeared to wobble and then went out of view.

Mr Christie told the hearing he found the 62-year-old face down and lifeless in the river below.

Recording an verdict of accidental death, West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff told Mr Heselden’s family: “I think it’s probable, I think typical of Jimi and the type of man he was, he held back and waited as an act of courtesy to allow Mr Christie more room.

“In so doing, he’s attempted to reverse the Segway back. As a result of that he’s got into difficulty.”

Mr Heselden, an ex-miner, had bought the European licence for the Segway a few years before but was better known as a philanthropist and the successful owner of Hesco Bastion, which builds containers used to protect troops around the world. Camp Bastion in Afghanistan is named after his firm, the inquest heard.

The inquest heard that Mr Heselden’s wife Julie last saw her husband earlier that morning.

The coroner said the businessman was probably out walking his dog when the accident happened in September last year. He heard how the path he was on was a metre and a half from the 42ft drop and tree branches in the area may also have contributed to his loss of control.

Mr Heselden is thought to have fallen on to the bank of the river before ending up in the water where he was found dead by Mr Christie.

A post-mortem examination found Mr Heselden died from “multiple blunt force injuries to the chest and spine consistent with a fall while riding a gyrobike”.

Experts found no fault with the Segway and detectives found no evidence of foul play.

Mr Hinchliff told the hearing: “It’s such a shame and tragedy that such a great man should have died in this way.”

The coroner said: “The fact is that Jimi was a local lad made good. Not made good because of any silver spoon in his mouth but because of his own hard work.”

Earlier, in a statement read to the court, Mrs Heselden described her husband’s rise from a humble start in the Halton Moor area of Leeds and his early job as a miner at a colliery in the city.

Mrs Heselden, who was the businessman’s second wife, described how he set up a sandblasting company after he was made redundant from the pit.

But, she said, it was in 1989 when had his major break – the invention of the Concertainer, which he initially envisaged as an aid to combating coastal erosion.

It is now used to build defences around military encampments, a modern alternative to sandbags. Hesco Bastion products are widely recognised as having saved lives in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other combat zones around the world.

Mr Heselden was a well-known philanthropist who gave millions of pounds to a range of causes. Charities he cared most about were those involved with his home city of Leeds and Help For Heroes, the injured soldiers’ organisation.

Mr Heselden was reported to have a fortune of £166m at his death, making him one of the 400 richest people in the UK.

His family’s solicitor, Rob Rode, read a statement afterwards which said: “The inquest today has confirmed what Jimi’s family have understood for some time, namely that his untimely death was the result of a tragic accident.”