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Senior Bayer boss leapt to his death, inquest hears

Threat of redundancy led to manager jumping from office window

Chris Ord

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Chris Ord

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Senior Bayer boss leapt to his death, inquest hears

A SENIOR manager at Bayer jumped to his death from his sixth-floor office window after being told he was being made redundant, an inquest has heard.

A coroner heard that, before his death, Mark Woodcock had told a member of the human resources department that he was thinking of taking his own life, but nothing was done by the company to act on this threat. 

The 43-year-old had been based at the firm’s former Strawberry Hill HQ in Newbury between June 2007 and April 2016, when he was placed on secondment to Leverkusen, Germany.

Before jumping from the sixth floor window of his office in Leverkusen on June 15 last year, he left handwritten notes to his family and colleagues on his desk, the inquest heard.

Bayer human resources manager, Rita Poole, told the inquest in Winchester that Mr Woodcock applied for a number of different roles in the company in the months after being told that he was to be made redundant, but did not manage to land any of them.

In a feedback meeting relating to one of the failed applications, the disappointment felt by Mr Woodcock boiled over, and he broke down in front of Ms Poole and Diana Placido, head of sales and marketing operational support at Bayer.

Mid-Hampshire coroner Grahame Short heard that Mr Woodcock told them: “I don’t have anything to live for anymore. I may as well throw myself off the nearest bridge.”

Giving evidence about this threat, Ms Poole told the inquest: “Mark was upset at the feedback. He was angry and he was emotional. I remember he banged the table. He said it in an emotional way.

She added: “I let him talk and I listened and he calmed down very quickly. I never imagined that there was any intent there to do what he was saying.”

Mr Woodcock was referred to Bayer’s Employment Assistance Programme, where he told counsellors he was thinking of “going to the garage with a rope” or “jumping off a tall building”.

The inquest heard how these threats were not fed back to Bayer.

Ms Poole told the coroner that there was no specific training in place at Bayer for HR personnel or managers to deal with threats of suicide from employees.

When asked if there had been a change in training at Bayer in response to Mr Woodcock’s death, Ms Poole confirmed the procedures remain unchanged, adding: “Bayer in 2017 will have a focus on mental health in line with other businesses, but this hasn’t been put in place because of Mark’s situation.”

Summing up, Mr Short said: “Employers all have a duty of care to their employees, particularly to the handling of difficult decisions like redundancy.

“It is right that is recognised and that when an employee like Mark shows signs of stress then that should be noted and acted upon.

“He told colleagues that he had recently had the worst days of his life. However, I believe that he sheltered his wife and family members from all this and did not give them any indication of his intentions.

“He probably wrote the notes in his office that same day. He asked his wife for forgiveness and it was clear from the comments that he was contemplating taking his life.”

The coroner suggested that Mr Woodcock, who lived in Gipsy Lane, Earley, might have been suffering from undiagnosed depression and recorded his death as a suicide.

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Article comments

  • mollyb

    08/05/2017 - 17:05

    I am shocked and saddened to read of this tragedy and my condolences to Mark's family. Bayer has simply failed in its duty of care to a member of staff. It appears from reading this article many 'cries for help' and warning signs were missed, misunderstood or ignored. I can't help but feel the entire situation has been woefully mismanaged. There needs to be some learning and big changes in process that Bayer need to put in place. It's a bit late to tell the coroner 'I never imagined that there was any intent'. Training for all HR staff dealing with delivering difficult news and spotting potential signs should be compulsory. With a national push on awareness of mental health, wouldn't it be nice to see Bayer leading the way in developing excellent processes for the health of its staff. Come on Bayer, perhaps less money on your new state of the art Green Park office and a bit more protecting your people.

    Reply

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