Harrogate seafood entrepreneur took his own life after 'struggling with change in circumstances'

A successful fish merchant and businessman who was well-known in Harrogate took his own life after struggling to cope with the breakdown of his marriage, an inquest heard.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 10:40 am
Chris Ramus was a keen shot and fisherman

Christopher Ramus, known as Chris, 72, and his wife Elizabeth set up Ramus Seafood in 1974, later opening fresh fish shops in Harrogate and Ilkley. The company became a major importer of Canadian lobsters and began supplying Bettys with fish in 1981.

Following his retirement, Mr Ramus' moods became 'low' and he struggled with insomnia and stress. In a statement to an inquest held at County Hall in Northallerton on February 1, Mrs Ramus gave the coroner an account of how a number of issues had culminated in her deciding to end their 40-year marriage.

Although she remained in the marital home on Duchy Road, both parties were looking for separate properties to move into when Mr Ramus was found dead in the garage on June 23 last year.

A young Chris Ramus during his days as a fish merchant and importer of lobsters

"He had always had low self-esteem, although he came across as dominant and confrontational. He was kind and honest, but always had a fear of failure and a negative attitude. He had been very low since retirement, and about three years ago became depressed. He liked to be in control, and I felt I needed space and wanted to separate. He could not accept this, and rang my doctor and suggested I might have dementia.

"I told him I would always look out for him, but he was bringing me down and I needed to be in control of my own life. I stayed in the house and cooked for him until we could both find new homes."

Mr Ramus had two children and his daughter Claire Holt was a close confidante who tried to help her father through his issues before his death.

Mrs Holt said: "We had many conversations and I tried hard to support his fragile mental health. The change in his marital circumstances and the prospect of losing his home proved too much to bear."

Mrs Holt said she suspected he had planned his death, as in the months leading up to it he sent her the contact details of his solicitor and friends, cancelled his Sky Sports subscription and packed away his fishing equipment. She said he appeared to be 'distancing himself from life and his passions' and had lost his sense of purpose.

They spoke on Facetime on Father's Day and Mr Ramus appeared calm and relaxed, and were in daily Whatsapp contact. He began to regularly thank her for all she had done for him.

On June 23, potential buyers were due to view the Duchy Road house and Mr Ramus had himself gone to view a one-bedroom flat that he was considering moving into.

He went to the flat viewing with his nephew, and later phoned Mrs Holt, seeming quiet and reflective. He described the experience as 'surreal' and later sent texts thanking both his nephews.

He died shortly before 6pm and had left cards for Elizabeth and Claire thanking them and expressing his love for them. He had also left documents relating to his legal and financial affairs in his wallet.

Mr Ramus' GP said he had seen him in the past for stress-related issues caused by business and family worries, and he had also sought private counselling. He was not diagnosed as having significant anxiety, but suffered from insomnia and was prescribed a sleep training programme in the months before his death.

He had confided in his GP about his marital problems and said he had given up alcohol. However, in a call with the doctor shortly before he died, he seemed positive and cancelled a further follow-up call. His GP stated that he gave 'no indication' he was planning suicide and that he appeared calm and to be making plans for the future.

Recording a verdict of suicide, assistant coroner for North Yorkshire John Broadbridge said: "He had been in a long marriage and change was happening which he found devastating. He had to give up his home and make a new life. It was very difficult for him.

"His daughter sensed he was preparing for a way to end his difficulties, and he seemed to be distancing himself from life. I am satisfied he retained his mental capacity and understood what he was doing. He was distressed and stressed, and it was becoming too much to bear.

"There were hints in that he left instructions with his solicitors. It appears he had the intention of ending his life, and although there was no diagnosis, he was clearly disturbed by the breakdown of his marriage. There was no future that he was truly looking forward to."

Mr Ramus enjoyed fishing and shooting and was a passionate Leeds Rhinos fan. He was captain of the Timble Shoot in the Washburn Valley.

Under the ownership of his son Alistair, both the Ramus Seafood shops have closed in the past two years. Instead, the company secured contracts with Fodder at the Great Yorkshire Showground and Lishmans butchers in Ilkley to become official stockists of their products. They also supply Booths supermarkets with fish.